Libya

Clashes in Libya as Security Council set to meet

Reuters/Danilo Krstanovic

At least 23 people were killed and 44 injured on Thursday during fighting in the eastern town of Al-Zawiyah, according to Libyan media. Witnesses fleeing to Tunisia say that the army and police have deserted the city of Zouara, which is 120 kilometres west of the capital.

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Large sections of the east of Libya are now out of Kadhafi's control and the leader addressed the people of Zawiyah in his TV intervention Thursday.

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called an emergency meeting of the alliance's council for Friday saying it was ready to act as "an enabler and coordinator" if member states take action.

European and US leaders have suggested the imposition of a no-fly zone.

European Union diplomatic chief Catherine Ashton has called for sanctions, and UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said thousands of people may have been killed.

"In brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protesters," said Pillay.

The country holds billions of dollars in US bank accounts, according to a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks on Thursday.

Libya’s sovereign wealth fund holds 32 billion dollars in cash and “several American banks are each managing 300-500 million dollars", according to comments by the fund’s boss Mohamed Layas, quoted in a 2010 message from the US embassy in Tripoli.

The United Nations Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss Libya.

The White House said on Thursday it was discussing the possibility of sanctions or a no-fly zone over the country with its European allies. A spokesperson said the US was not ruling any option out.

And Switzerland announced that it had frozen assets belonging to Kadhafi.

Countries around the world continue to repatriate people from Libya. An estimated 20,000 people have crossed into Tunisia in the last five days.

One witness, a Polish man who did not wish to give his name, described what he'd seen in Tripoli.

“Our office was completely destroyed,” he said. “There’s nothing left. All we could see when we came back were traces of blood on the walls and on the ground, that’s all.
The Libyans are telling us you can come back, but come back to what? Everything’s been looted.”

Tribal loyalties in the east are an important element, according to George Joffe, at Cambridge University's Centre for International Studies.

“One of the few institutions that continues to operate in Libya is its tribal structure,” he says. “Tribes continue to offer a sense of identity to people and have been a mechanism by which what political protest there could be has been articulated.

"Whether they’re involved now in the new organisations which are emerging we don’t know but they might be one vehicle through which they could be achieved.”

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