Libyans claiming to have ousted Muammar Qaddafi’s troops organized committees to run and defend their eastern cities, as forces loyal to the leader retained control of the capital, Tripoli.
In Benghazi, armed members of popular committees surrounded a courthouse as women held a sit-in after marching from the now- deserted army base, a resident said. Two air force pilots bailed out of their plane and let it crash near Benghazi after refusing orders to attack the city, local newspaper Quryna said, and the army commander at Tobruk in the northeast said his unit has joined the rebels. In Tripoli, where heavy gunfire was heard overnight, protesters stayed off the streets as the government urged people to go back to work and show that life is normal, the Associated Press said.
The European Union announced it was suspending talks on a “framework” accord to smooth relations and “is ready to take further measures” against the North African nation. The Obama administration is talking with other governments about imposing economic sanctions, including a possible asset freeze on Qaddafi and top regime officials, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters in Washington. President Obama will make a statement today or tomorrow, said his chief spokesman, Jay Carney.
“We are reviewing a variety of options with our international partners to compel or to persuade the government of Libya to cease this terrible violence,” Carney told reporters at the White House.
Western and regional governments rushed to evacuate thousands of their citizens from Libya after Qaddafi’s warning last night that he will fight the rebels until death. About 300 people have already been killed, Human Rights Watch said. Italy warned that more than 250,000 migrant workers may flee to Europe.
The fighting in Libya, which holds Africa’s largest oil reserves, is the most violent yet seen in six weeks of popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa, which have already unseated longtime rulers in Tunisia and Egypt. Oil prices surged, extending this week’s increase to 13 percent, on concern supplies may be disrupted as the unrest spreads.
Assassination or War
“Civil war is most likely unless someone assassinates Qaddafi today or tomorrow,” said Robert Baer, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer and author of several books on the Middle East. The ruler’s supporters “are going to hold onto a part of the country, an armed force with a lot of money.”
Crude for April delivery rose as high as $98.19 a barrel today, and traded at $97.90 at 11:40 a.m. in New York. Higher oil prices helped push the S&P 500 down 0.6 percent, extending its two-day drop to 2.6 percent. Nomura Holdings Inc. predicted oil may jump to $220 a barrel if exports in Libya and neighboring Algeria are shut down.
Shares in oil extractors with Libyan interests have slumped, with Italy’s Eni SpA dropping 7 percent this week and Austria’s OMV AG plunging 11 percent. Both companies, along with France’s Total SA, have cut back production in Libya.
The U.S. has chartered a ferry that will take American citizens from Tripoli, to Malta today and Turkey said it has mounted the biggest evacuation in its history, with three ships and several planes dispatched to remove some 5,000 nationals by sea and air. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said getting British citizens out of the Libya is the top Foreign Office priority, as his government deployed a Royal Navy frigate near Libya to help.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the European Union should consider imposing sanctions on Libya, and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the EU needs a mechanism to “split the economic and social burden of an immigration wave.”
Egyptians crossing back into their country from Libya across a border now in the hands of Qaddafi’s opponents described attacks by government forces on protesters.
“Gunfire starts at sunset and lasts all night in Tripoli,” said Mohamed Hassan, a carpenter. Yasser al-Badry, also a carpenter, said live bullets were “all over the ground” after one crackdown against protesters in the capital.
‘Eradicated Within Hours’
A Libyan Foreign Ministry official said on state television, which didn’t identify him, that the uprising is dominated by Islamic extremists and can be “eradicated within hours.”
Qaddafi supporters wandered through Tripoli today firing into the air, and in some districts people barricaded their streets to keep the gunmen out, the AP said, citing residents.
In Benghazi, anti-Qaddafi militias in front of the courtroom were collecting weapons from people who had seized them from army supplies, a local resident said by phone, declining to be identified on concern there will be reprisals. Residents have also formed committees to direct traffic, clean the streets & distribute water and food, the person said.
Major General Suleiman Mahmoud, commander of the Libyan army in Tobruk, told Al Jazeera that his forces have deserted Qaddafi and are siding with local residents. “We are supporting the Libyan people,” he said in a phone interview with the channel, adding that Tobruk was peaceful and residents were organizing themselves.
There was fighting in Misrata, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) east of Tripoli, where rebel forces claimed to have taken control, the AP said. A radio station in the city was damaged in an attack by pro-Qaddafi forces, Quryna said.
Protesters in Libya, where Qaddafi seized power in a 1969 coup, and elsewhere in the region have been driven by a combination of economic complaints such as high prices and scarce jobs, and the repression of political and civil rights by leaders in power for decades.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, today moved to increase living standards after protests reached neighboring Bahrain. King Abdullah today announced at least $11 billion in spending increases on social security and housing.
Saudi Arabia has a Shiite Muslim minority in the eastern provinces, where most of its oil is produced. Shiites have been leading protests in Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, where they form a majority and say they suffer discrimination under a Sunni monarchy.
The largest Bahraini opposition group said it is looking for “significant steps” by the government before agreeing to join in a national dialogue, after at least seven died in clashes between protesters and security forces. Tens of thousands marched in the capital, Manama, yesterday to call for more democracy and equal rights.
Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for more than 30 years, has been urged to quit by protesters who clashed with pro-government forces for a 12th straight day yesterday. At least two people were killed and 10 others wounded yesterday, the media committee of the protesters said.
Saudi Arabia’s benchmark Tadawul stock index fell for a ninth day, dropping 0.2 percent. Other regional markets pared losses, with Dubai’s main index rising 1.3 percent from a six- month low. The Bloomberg GCC200 regional benchmark added 0.1 percent.
Libya, with a population of about 6.3 million, pumps 1.6 million barrels of oil a day, selling most of it to Europe, according to Bloomberg estimates. That’s about 1.8 percent of world supply. It’s the third-biggest producer in Africa after Nigeria and Angola, while Libyan reserves of 44.3 billion barrels are the continent’s largest, according to BP Plc’s Statistical Review of World Energy.
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