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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Libya: Exodus As World Plans Military Action

Fears of a humanitarian crisis are mounting as violence in Libya forces thousands of refugees to flee - and world leaders step up military plans for the country.

The concerns over the increasing numbers crossing the country's borders came as the US announced it had frozen $30bn in Libyan assets.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have left Libya in the past week and the Red Cross estimates around 1,000 refugees are arriving on Tunisia's border every hour.

Red Cross spokesman Joe Lowry, at the scene, told Sky News the situation was becoming increasingly chaotic.

"For past 12 hours, there has been a severe crush on the border, in the no-man's land between the two countries," he said.

Mr Lowry added: "There are around 2,500 people clamouring to get through.

"They are mainly Egyptian workers, but we have also spoken to people from Bangladesh, China, Thailand, Ghana, Mali and Mauritania.

"It's a very tense situation and we have been working flat out to try to get aid to people."

Sky News' foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall, also at the border, added: "The Red Cross puts the number of people at around 2,500, but I think it has now swelled to 4,000.

"Thousands of people are stuck between the two borders and thousands more are coming in behind them.

"They are pretty angry because when they get here they are getting very little help."

Anyone wishing to help can go to, a charity through which money can be donated to help with medical supplies.

Meanwhile, Colonel David Lapan said the US military was repositioning naval and air forces around Libya, as international demands intensified for an end to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's 41-year rule.

"We have planners working and various contingency plans and I think it's safe to say as part of that we're repositioning forces to be able to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made ... to be able to provide options and flexibility," he said.

"We're still in that planning and preparing mode should we be called upon to do any of those types of missions, whether humanitarian and otherwise."

Lapan declined to give details about the types of ships or units being repositioned or how US commanders plan to use them.

He said the US now had two aircraft carriers in its naval command region that includes the Arabian Sea and Gulf, but does not have any carriers in the Mediterranean.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has also been discussing possible military intervention and revealed plans for a no-fly zone over Libya.

Despite increasing pressure on Col Gaddafi, in an interview with America's ABC network, he laughed while refusing to acknowlege the protests against his regime.

He said: "All my people love me. They would die to protect me."

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice labelled Col Gadaffi "delusional".

"When he can laugh while he is slaughtering his own people, it only underscores how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is with reality."

In Libya, witnesses say the town of Misratah and its airport are under the control of Col Gaddafi's opponents, according to reports.

The rebels apparently held off an attack by pro-government forces near the town, which is 125 miles (200 km) east of the capital Tripoli, and shot down a military aircraft.

Two people are thought to have died in the clashes.

"An aircraft was shot down while it was firing on the local radio station. Protesters captured its crew," one witness told Reuters.

"Fighting to control the military air base (near Misratah) started on Sunday night and is still going on.

"Gaddafi's forces control only a small part of the base. Protesters control a large part of this base where there is ammunition. Misratah is still under the control of the protesters."

It comes after anti-Gaddafi forces at the weekend seized the key city of Zawiyah, just 30 miles from Tripoli.

The rebels claim around 2,000 troops loyal to the Libyan leader are surrounding the city and expect a counter-attack at any moment.

There are also reports of around 300 people protesting in eastern Tripoli.

Security forces are said to be heading to the scene of the march in the district of Tajoura, raising the possibility of a new confrontation, according to Reuters.

Also, a video of one of Col Gaddafi's sons, Saif al Islam, has appeared on the internet, where he apparently rallies security forces in Tripoli and promises them more weapons.

Marshall said the regime has to "crumble from within" in order for Col Gaddafi to go.

"It will take cracks from the inside to appear before Col Gaddafi leaves, which is why Zawiyah, which fell on Sunday, is important.

"Symbolically it is only 30 miles from where Col Gaddafi is and it could be a staging post if the protesters can hold it.

"However, Col Gaddafi's regime is finished."

Marshall added: "When David Cameron and diplomats talk about sanctions and travel bans they are not sending a message to the Gaddafis but the people around them.

"What they're saying is 'look, the game's up, so let's do something do about it' and although they're not calling for Gaddafi to be killed, in these situations sometimes someone 'puts a bullet' in the leader's head and they try to move on."

The country's former justice minister, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, who is leading the newly-formed National Council, told Sky News rebel forces will take Tripoli by force if necessary.

He said: "Tripoli is fighting against oppression and when it falls the regime will follow. Now the support around (Col Gaddafi) is collapsing."

In Brussels, European Union governments have approved a package of sanctions against Col Gaddafi, his family and closest advisers, including an arms embargo, asset freeze and visa ban.

The International Criminal Court has formed a team to collect information about civilian deaths during the uprising and will decide within days whether to open a formal investigation.

Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said: "Information suggests that forces loyal to President Muammar Gaddafi are attacking civilians in Libya. This could constitute crimes against humanity and must stop."

Hundreds of Britons are now back home after being evacuated from Libya.

Many were rescued over the weekend in a series of operations by special forces.

RAF aircraft picked up 150 civilians - a large number of them British.

Also, new video footage has emerged of one of the missions.

Copyright of Yahoo! UK

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