Gaddafi forces strike back as rebels close in on Tripoli

Reports from Tripoli said the bodies of people killed in the capital city have been cleared off the streets.

Witnesses said pro-Gaddafi militiamen, including foreignmercenaries, were patrolling Tripoli''s main streets, firing inthe air. Security had also been stepped up outside keygovernment buildings, and homes and hospitals had been raidedin search for opposition supporters, they said.

In another blow to the Libyan leader, his cousin andclose aide Ahmed Qadhaf al-Dam announced that he had defectedto Egypt in protest against violence in the country.

Quoting a statement from al-Dam''s office, Egypt''sofficial MENA news agency said that he had resigned from "allhis official functions."

Al-Dam, who had a permanent residence in Cairo andoversaw Libya''s relations with Egypt, resigned yesterday "toprotest against the handling of the Libyan crisis."

The statement called for "a halt to the bloodbath (inLibya) and a return to reason in order to preserve the unityand future of Libya."

Witnesses said a pro-Gaddafi army brigade attackedMisrata''s airport with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

They told Al Jazeera that pro-democracy protesters hadmanaged to fight off that attack. "Revolutionaries have drivenout the security forces," they said, adding that "heavymachine guns and anti-aircraft guns" were used against them.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the27-nation bloc needs to consider sanctions like travelrestrictions and an asset freeze against Libya in a bid tostop violence there.

NATO''s main decision-making body also planned to meet inan emergency session soon to consider the Libya situation.

Top UN human rights official, Navi Pillay said there arereports of mass killings of thousands in Libya that shouldforce the global community to "step in vigorously" to end thecrackdown against anti-government protesters.

The Swiss government, reacting to the Libyan situation,has ordered a freeze of any assets belonging to Gaddafi in thecountry.

The death toll since violence began in the over week-longuprising remains unclear, though Francois Zimeray, France''stop human rights official, claimed yesterday it could be ashigh as 2,000.

Earlier, Franco Frattini, Italy''s foreign minister, saida number of 1,000 was "credible". The Paris-basedInternational Federation for Human Rights put the figure at640 as of Wednesday.

Foreign governments were continuing to evacuate theircitizens from the country, with thousands flooding Libya''sland borders with Tunisia and Egypt.

Libyan state TV, meanwhile, announced that every familyin the country would receive 500 dinars (USD 400), and thatwages for some categories of public sector workers wouldincrease by 150 per cent, in what was being seen as an effortby the regime to assuage anti-Gaddafi feelings.

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