In what may be best described as the start of a civil war, Warplanes and Militia Fire on Protesters in Libyan Capital

The faltering government of the Libyan strongman Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi struck back at mounting protests against his 40-year rule, as helicopters and warplanes besieged parts of the capital Monday, according to witnesses and news reports from Tripoli.

By Monday afternoon, a witness saw armed militiamen firing on protesters who were clashing with riot police. As a group of protesters and the police faced off in a neighborhood near Green Square, in the center of the capital, ten or so Toyota pickup trucks carrying more than 20 men — many of them apparently from other African countries in mismatched fatigues — arrived at the scene.

Holding small automatic weapons, they started firing in the air, and then started firing at protesters, who scattered, the witness said. “It was an obscene amount of gunfire,” said the witness. “They were strafing these people. People were running in every direction.” The police stood by and watched, the witness said, as the militiamen, still shooting, chased after the protesters.

The escalation of the conflict came after Colonel Qaddafi’s security forces had earlier in the day retreated to a few buildings in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, fires burned unchecked, and senior government officials and diplomats announced defections. The country’s second-largest city remained under the control of rebels.

Security forces loyal to Mr. Qaddafi defended a handful of strategic locations, including the state television headquarters and the presidential palace, witnesses reported from Tripoli. Fires from the previous night’s rioting burned at many intersections, most stores were shuttered, and long lines were forming for a chance to buy bread or gas.

Libya’s U.N. Diplomats Call Qaddafi “Genocidal War Criminal”

The New York Times reports Libya’s U.N. Diplomats Break With Qaddafi

Members of Libya’s mission to the United Nations publicly repudiated Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on Monday, calling him a genocidal war criminal responsible for mass shootings of demonstrators protesting against his four decades in power. They called upon him to resign.

The repudiation, led by Libya’s deputy permanent representative at a news conference at the mission’s headquarters in New York, amounted to the most high-profile defection of Libyan diplomats in the anti-Qaddafi uprising that has convulsed Libya over the past week.

“We are sure that what is going on now in Libya is crimes against humanity and crimes of war,” the deputy permanent representative, Ibrahim Dabbashi, told reporters in the ground-floor lobby of the Libyan mission on Manhattan’s East Side, adorned by a large portrait of Colonel Qaddafi in tribal dress atop a white horse.

About a dozen of Mr. Dabbashi’s colleagues stood behind him as he spoke, looking tense and nervous.

“We state clearly that the Libyan mission is a mission for the Libyan people,” he said. “It is not for the regime. The regime of Qaddafi has already started the genocide against the Libyan people.”

He called upon Colonel Qaddafi to step down and leave the country “as soon as possible.”

British Foreign Secretary says Gaddafi Heads for Venezuela

British Foreign Secretary William Hague claims Information Gaddafi on way to Venezuela

Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday he had seen some information to suggest Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi had fled the country and was on his way to Venezuela.

“You asked me earlier about whether Colonel Gaddafi is in Venezuela,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a European Union foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. “I have no information that says he is, but I have seen some information that suggests he is on his way there at the moment.”

Diplomats said Hague was not referring to rumours circulating in the media about Gaddafi’s whereabouts, but to separate sources for the information.

Venezuela denies reports Gaddafi’s on his way

The first casualty of war is the truth, so it’s hard to know what to believe. However, Venezuela denies reports Gaddafi’s on his way

Venezuela’s Communications and Information Minister Andres Izarra told the Latin American television network Telesur denied reports that Gaddafi’s may be headed for Venezuela. Other government sources rejected his imminent arrival as well, following suggestions by British Foreign Secretary William Hague that Gaddafi could be on his way to Venezuela.

‘I have no information that says he is (already there), although I have seen some information that suggests he is on his way there at the moment,’ Hague said in Brussels earlier Monday.

The Venezuela of left-wing populist President Hugo Chavez has held friendly ties with Gaddafi’s fellow-oil producing Libya. Gaddafi visited the South American country in September 2009, while Chavez reciprocated in October 2010.

One has to wonder if calls by the Libyan delegates for Qaddafi to leave someone got twisted into “Qaddafi has already fled”.

Given numerous intelligence failures in the past several weeks, there is no reason to give strong credence to much of anything except live coverage or actual eyewitness accounts from reputable sources.

Al Jazeera Live Blog

Inquiring minds may be interested in the Al Jazeera Libya Live Blog

Here are some items of note …

Leading Sunni Cleric issues fatwa encouraging the assassination of Gaddafi.

10:40pm: Yusuf Al Qardawi, a leading Sunni cleric, has just issued a fatwa on Al Jazeera Arabic, encouraging the assassination of Gaddafi.

10:25pm
: More on the resignation of the two diplomats from the embassy in Washington DC. Counsels Saleh Ali Al Majbari and Jumaa Faris denounced Gaddafi, saying he “bears responsibility for genocide against the Libyan people in which he has used mercenaries”.

They said they had nothing to do with the events and they no longer represent Gaddafi’s regime – but that they represent the Libyan people. The pair also called on Barack Obama to “work urgently with the international community to press for an immediate cessation of the massacres of the Libyan people”, and they are asking the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone imposed on Libya to prevent the arrival of mercenaries to Libya.

9:41pm: Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Hosam Zaki says the Egyptian army has been ordered to facilitate the evacuation of all Egyptians from Libya. Some 100 buses, full of Egyptians, are on their way to the Libya-Egypt border – where the army has set up relief tents.

The ministry is “deeply concerned” by Saif Gaddafi’s speech last night, which they say accused Egyptians of being behind Libya’s violence

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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