Libyan protesters standing firm


Protests in cities across Libya have attracted thousands of people

Libya is in chaos with anti-government protesters fiercely refusing to be cowed by threats amid rumours that leader Muammar Gaddafi had fled the country.

Only hours after one of Gaddafi’s sons went on national television to warn that the regime would fight “to the last bullet” fresh demonstrations are planned for the capital Tripoli.

Meanwhile, there were celebrations in the country’s second city of Benghazi as rebels claimed to have won control after bloody fighting.

And as reports came in that military planes had attacked civilians in Tripoli, two senior air force officers flew their jet fighters to Malta and asked for political asylum.

The two Mirage pilots, both colonels, were allowed to land after they radioed they had left a base near Tripoli and had flown low to avoid detection.

Back in Tripoli the new protests were likely to bring another round of violence after a similar march the night before prompted clashes that lasted until dawn, with snipers firing on protesters.

The People’s Hall, the main building for government gatherings where the country’s equivalent of a parliament holds its sessions several times a year, was set on fire.

The first major sign of discontent in Gaddafi’s government came with the resignation of justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil over the “excessive use of force against unarmed protesters”.

The capital was largely shut down, with schools, government offices and most shops closed, as armed members of pro-government organisations called “Revolutionary Committees” circulated in the streets hunting for protesters.

The protests and violence are the heaviest yet in the capital of two million people, a sign of how unrest is spreading after six days of demonstrations in eastern cities demanding the end of Gaddafi’s rule.

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