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The World

February 22, 2011

Gadhafi's grip on Libya weakens

Protesters say they're in control of 2nd-largest city

CAIRO — Deep cracks opened in Moammar Gadhafi's regime yesterday, with Libyan government officials at home and abroad resigning, air force pilots defecting and a major government building ablaze after clashes in the capital of Tripoli. Protesters called for another night of defiance against the Arab world's longest-serving leader despite a crackdown.

At sunset, pro-Gadhafi militia drove around Tripoli with loudspeakers and told people not to leave their homes, witnesses said, as security forces sought to keep the unrest that swept eastern parts of the country — leaving the second-largest city of Benghazi in protesters' control — from overwhelming the capital of 2 million people.

State TV said the military had "stormed the hideouts of saboteurs" and urged the public to back security forces. Protesters called for a demonstration in Tripoli's central Green Square and in front of Gadhafi's residence, but witnesses in various neighborhoods described a scene of intimidation: helicopters hovering above the main seaside boulevard and pro-Gadhafi gunmen firing from moving cars and even shooting at the facades of homes to terrify the population.

Youths trying to gather in the streets were forced to scatter and run for cover by the gunfire, and at least one young man was shot to death late last night, said one witness, who like many reached in Tripoli by The Associated Press spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Gadhafi, whose whereabouts were not known, appeared to have lost the support of at least one major tribe, several military units and his own diplomats, including the delegation to the United Nations. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi accused Gadhafi of committing genocide against his own people in the current crisis.

Warplanes swooped low over Tripoli in the evening and snipers took up position on roofs, apparently to stop people outside the capital from joining protests, according to Mohammed Abdul-Malek, a London-based opposition activist in touch with residents.

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