Opposition National Libya Council sets up crisis committee

Libyan revolutionaries pursue westward drive


The National Libyan Council said on Saturday it had named a three-member crisis committee, which included a head of military affairs and one for foreign affairs.

Omar Hariri, one of the officers who took part in Gaddafi's 1969 coup but was later jailed, was appointed head of the military. Ali Essawi, a former ambassador to India who quit last month, was put in charge of foreign affairs.

Mahmoud Jebril, who had been involved in a project among intellectuals to establish a democratic state, was named head of the crisis committee, which aims at streamlining decision making.

Meanwhile, revolutionaries advanced further west along the Mediterranean coast to Bin Jawad, inching closer towards Muammer Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, an AFP reporter said.

"We pushed them past Bin Jawad and today we will pound them back to Sirte," said one fighter, an officer who defected from the military when the uprising began more than two weeks ago.

An AFP reporter saw groups of revolutionaries in Bin Jawad, a small settlement of two restaurants, shacks and houses, about 150 kilometers (95 miles) from Sirte.

Libyan planes were circling over Bin Jawad and the small oil town of Ras Lanuf further east, which the rebels seized after heavy fighting with pro-Gaddafi forces on Friday.

Defected soldier Ibrahim al-Atrashi said that 16 rebels died in the fighting on Friday. Medics have confirmed at least 10 of the deaths.

"In the last three days, 7,000 men have moved from Benghazi west towards the front," he claimed. He also said 25 Gaddafi soldiers were killed in fighting on Friday, but the information was impossible to confirm independently.

Among rebels, there were reports of negotiations for a peaceful entry into Sirte, although that would seem unlikely given its symbolism for Libyan leader Gaddafi.

Asked when the rebels would advance further towards Sirte, a retired army soldier turned rebel said it would depend on reinforcements and the weather. A dust storm had drastically reduced visibility in Ras Lanuf on Saturday.

Govt disputes claim

But in Tripoli the deputy foreign minister in Gaddafi's government, Khaled Kaaim, said on Friday that the government still controled Ras Lanouf.

Earlier a government source admitted that Brega, between Ras Lanouf and the opposition's headquarters of Benghazi, was in the revolutionaries' hands, only to be swiftly contradicted by a colleague, who said fighting there was still ongoing.

Ras Lanouf is 200 kilometers (120 miles) east of Sirte, the Libyan strongman's hometown.

Loud explosions and machine-gun fire could be heard in the desert 10 kilometers east of Ras Lanouf, as truckloads of armed insurgents headed in that direction accompanied by ambulances.

"They are firing Grad rockets. I saw four people killed in front of me. A rocket hit them," said a revolutionary, who gave his name as Marai.

the government controls it: in Raslanuf, everything is calm

Khaled Kaaim, deputy foreign minister


In the western town of Zawiya revolutionaries have repelled an attack by Gaddafi's forces, an opposition spokesman told Reuters on Saturday.

"They entered Zawiyah at six in the morning with heavy forces, hundreds of soldiers with tanks. Our people fought back ... We have won for now and civilians are gathering in the square," said Youssef Shagan, the revolutionary force spokesman in Zawiyah.

"We captured 3 APCs, two tanks and one pick-up after an hour and a half of fighting. A lot of civilians fled when the fighting started," he said, adding that there were government snipers in the town.

Earlier reports said Gaddafi's forces had reasserted broad control of the Mediterranean coastal town, 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital Tripoli but had run into rebel resistance in a central square.

A opposition fighter in central Zawiyah told Reuters by phone that Gaddafi's forces were re-grouping at the entrance of the town after being pushed back on Saturday morning.

"Gaddafi will never enter this city. He will never set foot here. The only way for him to enter the city is when we are all dead. He has to kill us all to control the city," said the revolutionary, who gave his name as Ibrahim.

He said there were casualties on both sides but could not give a precise number.

Explosion in al-Rajma

In another incident, at least 19 people were killed and dozens wounded when twin blasts ripped through a weapons depot at the al-Rajma military base, southeast of Benghazi, doctors said.

The cause of the explosions was not immediately clear, but most residents ruled out an air strike by Gaddafi loyalists.

Resident Abdallah Bubakr told AFP rebels turned up at the base demanding weapons to take to the front at Ras Lanuf.

"Two cars rode up with people at the place and said they wanted weapons to take to Raslanuf. They entered the store and just after they left Rajma, there was the first explosion, followed five minutes later by another," he said.

Tripoli sees protests

Some 400 protesters marched out of the Murad Agha mosque after noon prayers in the eastern Tripoli district of Tajoura, chanting, "The people want to bring the regime down!" and waved the red, black and green flag of Libya's pre-Gaddafi monarchy, which has become the banner of the uprising.

Pro-Gaddafi forces quickly moved in. They fired volleys of tear gas and - when the marchers continued - opened fire with live ammunition, according to witnesses.

It was not clear if they fired at the crowd or into the air, but the protesters scattered, many of them taking refuge back in the mosque, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. A doctor said several people were wounded and taken to a hospital.

"All these people are threatened with death," said a 35-year-old among the Tajoura protesters Friday. "We have no education, no economy, no infrastructure. ... We want nothing but the end of the regime. We were born free but he is suppressing us." He said he had recently had kidney surgery, but "look at me, still I went out with the people because we are oppressed people."

"I am not afraid," said another man in the march. "We want to show the world that we are not afraid."

Thousands of Gaddafi supporters later packed into the capital's central Green Square, waving green flags and pictures of the Libyan leader in a counterdemonstration complete with fireworks.

Armed men dressed in blue formed a security cordon around mosques in Tripoli while helicopters buzzed overhead.

Before prayers, some 1,500 worshippers inside the Murad Agha mosque debated what to do.

At one point, they decided to hold a sit-in inside the mosque to avoid coming under gunfire by stepping outside. In the mosque's courtyard, they burned a copy of the Green Book, Gadhafi's political manifesto, as well as the green flag of Gadhafi's Libya.

At the same time, young men from the neighborhood transformed a nearby square, tearing down posters of the Libyan leader and replacing them with the flags. They spray-painted walls with graffiti reading, "Down with Gadhafi" and "Tajoura will dig your grave."

In the end, the 400 worshippers in the mosque decided to march.

Internet services, which have been spotty throughout Libya's upheaval, appeared to be halted completely in Tripoli on Friday before the protests. Renesys Corp., a Manchester, New Hampshire, company that maps the pathways of the Internet, said it wasn't able to reach any of the websites it tried to access inside Libya. Google's transparency report, which shows traffic to the company's sites from various countries, also showed that Internet traffic in Libya had fallen to zero.

Libyan authorities briefly barred many foreign journalists from leaving their Tripoli hotel, claiming it was for their protection because they had information "al-Qaeda elements" planned to open fire on police to spark clashes. They later allowed them to go out.

The people want to bring the regime down

Protesters in Benghazi