Gaddafi struggles to retain power

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Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi addresses the nation in a TV broadcast in Tripoli (AP)

Cracks in Muammar Gaddafi’s once-total rule are spreading rapidly across Libya.

Militia and mercenaries loyal to the dictator clamped down violently in Tripoli but the rebellion controlling much of eastern Libya claimed new gains closer to the capital.

And a jet fighter crew let their plane crash in the desert, parachuting to safety, rather than bomb opposition-held Benghazi.

Colonel Gaddafi’s opponents said they had taken over Misrata, which would be the largest city in the western half in the country to fall into their hands.

Clashes broke out over the past two days in the town of Sabratha, west of the capital, where the army and militia were trying to put down protesters who overwhelmed security headquarters and government buildings

The division of the country – and defection of some army units to the protesters – raised the possibility the opposition could try an assault on the capital.

There were internet calls by protesters for all police, armed forces and youth to march to Tripoli on Friday.

Col Gaddafi appears to have lost the support of several tribes and his own diplomats, including Libya’s ambassador in Washington, Ali Adjali, and deputy UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi.

The Libyan Embassy in Austria also condemned the use of “excessive violence against peaceful demonstrators” and said it was representing the Libyan people.

International outrage mounted after Col Gaddafi went on state TV and called on his supporters to fight protesters.

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