Scores killed today as authorities crack down on demonstrators


Cairo, Feb 21 (PTI) Libya''s anti-government protesterstook control of several cities in the north African countrybut came under a brutal crackdown in capital Tripoli whereviolence claimed scores of lives today, amid reports thatMuammar Gaddafi has fled the country.

As the violent suppression of protests came undercriticism, even from figures within the government, securityforces used fighter jets and live ammunition on protesters inTripoli.

Al Jazeera said at least 61 people were killed todayin what some witnesses described as a ''massacre'' at a hugeanti-government rally.

Lines of communication were cut off by authorities asthey seek to suppress the revolt against Gaddafi''s 41-year-oldregime, as the protests that started from the eastern city ofBenghazi reached Tripoli for the first time.

A growing number of figures from the regime defectedin protest, even as state TV reported that Libyan securityforces had launched an operation against what it called "densof terrorists". Some reports said that military aircraft hadfired at the protesters in Tripoli from the air.

Human Rights Watch had put the figure of dead at least223 earlier in the day, but some other international rightsgroups said there could be up to 400 dead in the unrest.

As calls from around the world grew loud forrestraint, 68-year-old Gaddafi''s son pledged to fight therevolt to the "last man standing", warning protesters thatLibya was neither Tunisia nor Egypt.

"We will keep fighting until the last man standing,even to the last woman standing ... we will not leave Libya tothe Italians or the Turks," Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said.

As people in the capital joined protests for the firsttime after days of violent unrest in the eastern city ofBenghazi, he appeared on television and said that the regimewill not back out even to the last bullet.

As the crackdown intensified, Libya''s justice ministerMustapha Abdeljalil resigned in protest to "the excessive useof force" while a senior Libyan diplomat in China and Libya''sAmbassador to India also quit in protest.

Several Libyan diplomats at the United Nations joinedcalls for Gaddafi to step down, and some accused the Libyanleader of carrying out genocide against his people.

Deputy ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said on thatGaddafi Kadhafi has "declared war" on the Libyan people, andadded that the mission staff had written to Gaddafi, askinghim to step down.

Libya''s senior diplomat in China Hessein Sadiq alMusrati, who stepped down and called on all diplomatic staffto resign, also said that Gaddafi "may have left Libya".

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Gaddafimay be heading to Venezuela, citing "information that suggestshe is on his way." Venezuela however denied that Gaddafi wason his way to the south American nation with governmentsources quoted as having said "no contact" has been made withhim or his administration. .

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