Gaddafi struggles to hold on to power as opponents make gains

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Cairo, Feb 24 (PTI) Libya''s embattled leader MuammarGaddafi today scrambled hard to stick to power as anti-regimeprotesters gained control of several eastern cities and therevolt moved closer to the capital Tripoli with many armyofficers defecting to join the uprising.

The town of Zuara, 120 km west of the capital Tripoli,has reportedly become the latest to fall to the opponents of68-year-old Gaddafi. There were no police or soldiers left inZuara, BBC quoted witnesses crossing out of Libya as saying.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, residents had beenqueuing to be issued guns looted from the army and police inorder to join what they called the battle for Tripoli, itsaid.

However, the regime continued to unleash a crackdown inthe capital city where, according to witnesses, ''militias''roamed around the streets to target protesters.

They said Tripoli was heavily guarded by pro-Gaddafiforces, with tanks deployed in the suburbs.

Sending a stern warning to the Libyan leader, USPresident Barack Obama indicated that strong unilateral andmultilateral measures in the form of sanctions were beingdeliberated.

He described the suffering and bloodshed in Libya as"outrageous" and "unacceptable" and asked the world to speakin one voice against violence by the Gaddafi regime in hisfirst remarks to the press over the crisis.

As rebellion inched closer to Tripoli and defections ofmilitary officers mounted, Gaddafi called on thousands of"mercenaries and irregular security forces" to defend hisstronghold, in what residents were quoted as saying was adesperate and dangerous turn in more than a week-old revolt.

After the fall of cities like Misurata to rebelsyesterday, there were reports that at least half of thenation''s coast to the east, up to the port of Ra''s Lanuf,appeared to have fallen to opposition forces.

Other towns that appeared to be no longer under Gaddafi''scontrol included Derna and Bayda, Al-Jazeera said.

Reports from the eastern coastal city of Tobruk, which is140km from the Egyptian border, said that a major chunk of thearmy in the east had switched sides in the revolt and peoplewere already celebrating freedom from Gaddafi''s 41-year rule.

Major-General Suleiman Mahmoud, the commander of thearmed forces in Tobruk, told Al-Jazeera that the troops led byhim had switched loyalties.

"We are on the side of the people," he said. "I was withhim (Gaddafi) in the past but the situation has changed - he''sa tyrant." (More) PTI WAJ KIM VMN

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