Anti-government protesters in Tripoli have come under heavy gunfire, latest reports from the Libyan capital say. Protests in the city resumed as protesters seeking the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi emerged from mosques following Friday prayers. There has been a heavy security presence around the city’s mosques in recent days.
Libyan TV says medical sources in Tripoli are denying reports that three people have been killed. The UN has said reports from Libya indicate thousands may have been killed or injured in recent days during the government crackdown. International efforts to co-ordinate a response to the Libya crisis are clearly gathering pace, after some criticism that it’s taken too long.
A number of European nations have been mobilising their militaries to assist in evacuation efforts. With increasing military assets arriving on the scene, some Nato members clearly think co-ordinating and supporting these efforts is something that perhaps Nato could and should do.
Any alliance involvement is likely at first to be limited to that. But international concern over events has been mounting, and questions are being raised about what contingencies – including military ones – are being planned, should the situation on the ground deteriorate further, and foreign nationals become stranded.
There continues to be talk of a possible no-fly zone. Would Nato become involved in that? The obstacles include whether there is an appetite or a consensus to establish one, whether it would really have much impact, and who might enforce it. For Nato, Italy and France probably have the nearest suitable air bases, or perhaps Greece. Otherwise, it might be a case of the United States, France, Italy or Spain deploying aircraft carriers. Clearly, that would be a major step.
For the past week, fighting has raged outside the capital between anti-government forces and troops loyal to Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, who has been in power for 42 years. Around Tripoli, an elite brigade commanded by Col Gaddafi’s son Khamis is believed to be dug in. In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council is meeting in special session for the first time to discuss the crisis in Libya. Libya is an elected member of the council but some members have called for it to lose its seat.
“In brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protesters,” said Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The UN World Food Programme has said Libya’s food supply chain is at risk of collapse because imports have not been not getting into the country and food distribution is hampered by violence. Nato ambassadors are currently holding emergency talks on the situation in Libya, bu t Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the Western military alliance has no intention of intervening in Libya.
Thousands of foreign nationals from Nato member states have been fleeing the violence in Libya, which has gripped much of the country in the past week. The evacuations posed a “massive challenge”, Mr Rasmussen said.
Evacuations by sea continued on Friday, somewhat hampered by rough weather. “The violence we have seen is appalling and unacceptable,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. “People working for this regime… should remember that international justice has a long reach and a long memory.”
In Paris, Libyan opposition supporters occupied the Libyan embassy. Both the ambassadors to France and to the UN cultural agency Unesco have announced they are joining the opposition. Libyan state TV has said the government will give each family 500 dinars (£250; $400) to cover increased food costs, while some public sector workers will receive a pay rise of 150%.
However, much of the country is now in the hands of anti-government forces. Col Gaddafi has blamed the uprising on al-Qaeda, saying young people have been given hallucinogenic drugs to incite them to revolt.