27 Feb 2011

Libya: RAF rescues further 150 people while key town falls

Libyan rebels have seized the town of Zawiyah where Channel 4 News has witnessed captured soldiers and freshly dug graves, as RAF planes rescue a further 150 people from the desert.

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox has confirmed three RAF C130 Hercules aircraft have evacuated a further 150 civilians from multiple locations in the eastern Libyan desert as continued unrest threatens to end the 41-year rule of Colonel Gaddafi.

Dr Fox said: “The first and second aircraft have landed in Malta and the third is due to arrive shortly.

“The aircraft have picked up civilians from a number of nations including Britain.

“HMS Cumberland has set sail for Malta after making a second visit to the port of Benghazi where she recovered around 200 civilians from various nations including around 50 British nationals. HMS York has remained in the region and stands ready to assist as required.”

Libya crisis: Brits brought to safety in Malta. (MoD)

Foreign Secretary William Hague has called for the Libyan leader to step down while revealing that Britain has revoked the diplomatic immunity of Gaddafi and his family. On Sunday evening the government announced that Gaddafi’s UK assets were now frozen.

‘I am staying,’ Gaddafi tells Serbia TV

Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to stay in Libya and blamed foreigners and al-Qaeda for the current unrest, according to Serbian television.

In an interview with the broadcaster, which journalists said was conducted at Gaddafi’s office in Tripoli, the Libyan leader also condemned the United Nations Security Council for imposing sanctions on him and launching a war crimes inquiry.

Channel 4 News special report – Arab revolt: Middle East uprisings

Britain changes course to say Gaddafi should go
Suddenly European leaders such as Chancellor Merkel, and now Britain, have decided it is time to say clearly Gaddafi must go.

Is this an admission that they were wrong before on Egypt, Tunisia and the rest Did people not fight and die there too? Or have we found out the line in the sand over which dictators must cross before they face demands from our government to step down.

It is not enough, as we saw in Egypt, to engage in prolonged intimidation of a population, the deployment of armed police and troops, the unleashing of armed "civilian" gangs to attack and kill protesters. You have to kill hundreds, and lose control of whole cities rather than just parts of them.

Read more from Gurublog
Libya protests: a man stands on a tank holding sign that reads

(Libya protests: “Our demand: freedom in Zawiyah” – Reuters)

The fall of Zawiyah

The red, green and black flag of Libya‘s anti-Gaddafi rebellion is flying from a building in the centre of Zawiyah and a crowd of several hundred people have chanted “This is our revolution!”

Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman witnessed soldiers defecting to the rebel side earlier – he tweeted: “With a tank which has defected. Large crowd shouting down down with the regime – Zawiya”

Armed men opposed to the rule of Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi are in control of the town of Zawiyah, about 50km (30 miles) west of Tripoli.

He added that in downtown Zawiya he had seen captured soldiers, five new graves and wounded people being treated in a mosque. He is one of a group of foreign journalists invited into the country by the Libyan regime.

Dungeons of Benghazi

Channel 4 News has visited an underground room in the liberated city of Benghazi which residents said was previously used as a prison.

The youth have spread their blood and the military will protect them! Benghazi ‘general’

One man, Khaled, who criticised the Gaddafi regime as a schoolboy, told Channel 4 News how he had been asked to go into a basement where he was shown ropes. He explained how he was told he would be hanged as soon as Colonel Gaddafi sent orders. He described how he was beaten and assaulted. There are fears some people may have died while captive in these underground dungeons.

A man who said he was now the general in charge of a base in Benghazi told Channel 4 News: “The youth have spread their blood and the military will protect them!” But he could not answer whether the plan now was to march on the capital, Tripoli.

UN sanctions on Gaddafi regime as Obama condemns violence

The United Nations Security Council has moved as a powerful bloc against Colonel Gaddafi’s crackdown on protesters, imposing sanctions on him, his five children and ten top associates.

Voting 15-0, the council has also put in place an arms embargo and urged UN member countries to freeze the assets of Gaddafi, his four sons and his daughter. The measures include a travel ban on the Gaddafi family.

Council members additionally agreed to refer the Gaddafi regime’s crackdown on protesters to a permanent war crimes tribunal for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity. It is feared up to 2,000 people have died in Libya during the unrest.

US President Barack Obama has made his feelings clear, following talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel. A White House spokesman said on Saturday: “When a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.”

You can follow Jonathan Rugman @jrug and @lindseyhilsum on Twitter.