Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s world was shrinking on Friday as a close adviser abandoned him, opponents consolidated their control of the country’s oil-rich east, and Switzerland froze some of his assets.
The leader responded by reinforcing his defenses in and around the capital, Tripoli, with tanks and mercenaries. “It’s a massacre in there,” Egyptian Mohamed Yehia said, describing recent violence after fleeing his home in the eastern coastal city of al-Bayda. Forces still loyal to the Libyan leader moved against cities near Tripoli, and dozens were reportedly killed in Az-Zawiyah, a town west of the capital.
Gaddafi, speaking by telephone on state television on Thursday, blamed the uprising against his 41-year rule on drugged kids and al-Qaeda. The evidence that he was losing ground included the defection to Egypt of a confidante, his cousin Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, which follows resignations in recent days by government ministers and diplomats. Army units, particularly in the eastern part of the country, have defected to the opposition, which may presage a civil war, a prospect raised by Gaddafi when last seen on state television Feb. 22.
“The possibility of civil war only exists if Gaddafi stays,” Mohammed Ali Abdallah, deputy head of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, the main exiled opposition group, said yesterday.
Meanwhile, the U.N. human rights chief on Friday decried Gaddafi regime's callous disregard for the Libyan people, as she condemned its escalating violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators.
At the opening of a Human Rights Council special session on the crisis, Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned that thousands may have been killed or injured in the violence.
"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 protestors," she said.
"According to some sources, thousands may have been killed or injured," she added.
Calling on Gaddafi to stop the violent repression, she said: "Today's brutal and shocking situation is the direct outcome of a callous disregard for the rights and freedom of Libyans that has marked the almost four-decade long grip on power by the current rule."
The Human Rights Council had called an extraordinary session because of the violence in Libya. In the first hour of the session, Arab and African countries made a strong condemnation of the repression against protestors.
The meeting is also expected to hear calls led by Western countries to recommend the suspension of the North African state from the council.
Crimes against humanity
In addition, the meeting plans to "urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry, ... to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya in connection with the on-going protests in the country," according to a copy of the draft resolution seen by AFP.
Human rights groups expressed optimism on the sidelines of the meeting that the text, which also condemns possible "crimes against humanity", would be adopted.
Separately, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called Friday for an emergency alliance meeting on Libya and said it was ready to act as "an enabler and coordinator" if member states take action.
"I have called for an emergency meeting in the North Atlantic Council today to discuss Libya," Rasmussen wrote on his Twitter account, referring to the alliance's political decision-making body.
"The situation in Libya is of great concern. NATO can act as an enabler and coordinator if and when member states will take action," he wrote ahead of a meeting with EU defense ministers in Godollo, Hungary.
Possible no-fly zone on Libya
EU nations are preparing to take part in a possible no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gaddafi from bombing protesters, an EU diplomat said Friday.
European Union governments are making "contingency plans" to police Libyan airspace but "the EU needs a U.N. Security Council resolution first," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The idea of a no-fly zone has been evoked as part of a set of international measures to punish the Kadhafi regime for its deadly repression of a popular revolt against his iron-fisted rule.
Rasmussen did not rule out NATO's participation in a no-fly zone but also stressed that a U.N. mandate would be needed.
"I think it is too early to go into specifics," he told reporters.
"I would like to add to this that such a far-reaching approach would definitely require international legitimacy, in particular I think it would require a clear mandate from the United Nations," he said.
First the police attacked the protesters, but after they saw many of their people being killed, they sympathized and joined them. The army too, said Yehia.
Mercenaries were brought in the following day but were repelled by the protesters, he said.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told parliament Feb. 23 there are credible reports that 1,000 people have been killed. The violence in Libya quickly surpassed unrest in other Arab countries engulfed by demonstrations.
Anti-government protesters appeared to be in control of the entire eastern coastline, according to media reports, as clashes between pro- and anti-government forces broke out in other cities, including Sabha in the southwest, and Sabhatha and Az-Zawiyah, both west of Tripoli.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Libya is bracing for civil war, his first comments on the unrest that follow speculation he may offer Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi asylum.
“Long live Libya and its independence,” Chavez said today in a post on his Twitter account, which came after comments from his Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on Libya before the National Assembly. Gaddafi is facing a civil war.
Chavez has historically had warm relations with Gaddafi, comparing him to liberator Simon Bolivar and hosting him in Venezuela in 2009 for a summit of African and South American leaders. British Foreign Minister William Hague said on Feb. 21 that Gaddafi may seek asylum in the South American country.
While Chavez issued brief comments on Twitter, Maduro questioned reports of bombings in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. He said imperial powers are interested in dividing Libya into 20 pieces to steal its oil as they have done in Iraq.