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Libyan Interior Minister quits, clampdown in Tripoli

By Rania
February 24, 2011 03:37 IST
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Libyan Interior Minister Abdel Fatah Yunes and a top aide of Moammar Gaddafi's powerful son Saif resigned on Wednesday, the latest to disown the regime of the defiant leader whose gunmen clamped down capital Tripoli while protesters claimed new gains in cities.

As Gaddafi vowed to crush unprecedented protests against his 41-year rule despite global demands for an end to violence, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini claimed that the crackdown has killed as many as 1,000 people and split Libya.

Official figures given by Libyan authorities putthe toll at 300. With much of the east said to be under control of the protesters, they claimed new gains in cities and towns closer to the heart of Gaddafi's regime in the capital. Protesters said they had taken over Misrata, which could be the largest city in the western half of the oil-rich north African country. "I announce my resignation from all my duties in response to the revolution of February 17 (against Gaddafi)," Yunes, attired in a military uniform, said on the pan-Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

General Yunes, who followed in the steps of Justice Minister Mustapha Abdeljalil, called on the armed forces to join the revolt and respond to the legitimate demands of the people. Reports said that Youssef Sawani, a senior aide to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, one of Gaddafi's influential sons, also resigned from his post in protest against the violence. The resignations came a day after Abdeljalil quit in protest over the "excessive use of violence"

against protesters, and diplomats at Libya's mission to the United Nations called on the army to help remove "the tyrant MuammarGaddafi".

Two air force pilots jumped from parachutes from their Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jet and let it crash, rather than carry out orders to bomb Libya's second largest city Benghazi, which is now under the control of protesters. People let off firecrackers and honked their horns to mark the end of days of bloodshed in Benghazi. TV footage showed an empty jail burnt in Benghazi and Sky News showed visuals of anti-aircraft missiles at what it said was an abandoned military base near the eastern city of Tobruk. Gadaffi has deployed troops to the west of Tripoli to try to stop a revolt that started in the east from spreading.

In the east, many soldiers have withdrawn from active service and deserted the military base near Tobruk. Libyan diplomats in several countries have either resigned in protest over the use of force, including the alleged firing by warplanes on civilian targets, or renounced Gaddafi's leadership, saying they stood with the protesters.

The Libyan Interior Ministry gave the first official death toll since the uprising began a week ago, saying 300 people had died so far -- 189 civilians and 111 soldiers. As countries across the world started evacuating their nationals trapped in Libya, India and 14 other members of the powerful UN Security Council strongly condemned the use of force against the peaceful protesters and demanded an immediate end to violence in the country.

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Rania in Cairo
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