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Opposition forces at Tripoli doorstep

Atul Aneja

Faint outlines of an alternative regime


Loyalists of Qadhafi maintaining hold over the capital

Demonstrators fear a pincer attack


DUBAI: Opposition forces are now on the doorstep of Libya's capital Tripoli and faint outlines of an alternative government had by Sunday emerged in Benghazi, the uprising's stronghold to the east.

But forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, causing heavy casualties, continue to maintain their hold over Tripoli.

Visiting journalists taken with much fanfare on a guided media tour by the regime are quoting doctors in Tripoli as saying the dead and the injured are being taken away from hospitals, and stuffed in cars by state-sponsored operatives, so that a lower casualty toll can be recorded.

Migrant workers

Panic stricken migrant workers, braving bad weather and violence are streaming out of the country, causing a humanitarian crisis across the border in Tunisia.

Reuters news agency is now confirming that opposition forces on Sunday were in control of Zawiyah, a city about 50 km west of Tripoli. A crowd of several hundred had assembled in the city centre waving the red, green and black flag of the pre-Qadhafi era. It quoted a man who was present there as saying “Zawiyah is free like Misrata and Benghazi”, referring to the two cities to the east of the capital. Al Jazeera confirmed that Misrata, Libya's third largest city, was also under opposition control. The dissidents were making progress, because civilians and defected military units were combining well to propel the advance.

However, the advance from the east was now hitting a road block. Mr. Qadhafi's loyalists were in control of Surt, the Libyan leader's hometown, east of Tripoli. In fact, fighters locked in Misrata, located between Tripoli and Surt, feared a pincer strike from either direction by regime loyalists.

Protesters have been heartened by the imposition of United Nations sanctions on Libya on Saturday, but some are apprehensive that these restrictions may not go far enough. Hana Elgallal, a legal and human rights expert in Benghazi, said she was disappointed that the U.N. did not impose a no-fly zone. “We will not be able to move and help Tripoli because of the fear that he [Qadhafi] will use his planes,” she was quoted as saying. Adding a word of caution, the “The Network of Free Ulema — Libya”, which claims it is a coalition of Muslim religious scholars and intellectuals, has welcomed humanitarian aid, but has rejected international military action against Libya.

In Benghazi, the framework of a new shadow government that would be prepared to fill the vacuum in Tripoli, if and when the regime departs, has begun to emerge. Mustafa Mohamed Abd al-Jalil, a former Justice Minister, who defected to the opposition, is fast emerging as a possible interim Prime Minister. Iman Bugaighis, a spokeswoman for an opposition coalition has said Benghazi is likely to be a temporary seat of government till Tripoli achieves “liberation”.

In order to instil international confidence, several oil workers who have joined the revolt have continued to pump oil, despite the surrounding chaos.

Workers at Libya's Arabian Gulf Oil Co (Agoco) were maintaining output, which in April 2010 was around 450,000 barrels per day, drawn from some of the country's biggest oilfields including Sarir and Nafoora.

Refugee crisis

Meanwhile, Libya's turmoil is generating a refugee crisis inside neighbouring Tunisia. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Sunday that “close to 100,000 people”, mainly foreign migrants, have fled Libya to neighbouring countries during the past week.

UNHCR staff said it had found 75 people from Bangladesh, Sudan, Thailand and Pakistan, in a patch of no-man's land between Libya and Egypt, who were without their passports.

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