Benghazi, Libya's rebel capital, braces for a fight
Libya's rebels are begging for international help as Qaddafi's forces tighten their siege of Ajdabiya, the last major city on the road to Benghazi.
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Benghazi braces for a siege
Qaddafi has Ajdabiya, the last major city on the road to Benghazi, partially encircled. Tripoli-based reporters flown down on a brief junket by the government to the western outskirts of town reported a force of about 1,000 men massing there with tanks, fuel trucks, and stores of ammunition and food. That indicates he’s seeking to choke the town off from the rest of the country.Skip to next paragraph
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There were scattered explosions in the town today but rebel leaders said their own militia continues to hold the center of the city, where the phones have been cut and most power turned off. In Misratah last week, the phones were cut before he unleashed plane, rocket, and tank fire on the town, killing dozens.
For now, Qaddafi appears stalled at Ajdabiya and has drawn no closer to Benghazi, but rebels said they shot down a pro-Qaddafi MIG this morning in Benghazi. Bombing today also did substantial damage to the runway at Beinana airfield in Benghazi, a city second only to Tripoli with 1 million residents.
This city is bracing for an expected siege. In many residential neighborhoods, young men with assault rifles have taken to the roofs of family homes and are organizing nightly patrols of their areas.
When the occasional plane was spotted overhead today, cars stopped, with the passengers alternately shouting curses and “God is great” at the sky. In the morning, two Turkish warships designed to monitor and attack planes were a few miles off Benghazi harbor.
'We'll fight to our last drop'
Benghazi and the eastern portion of the country has always been restive, and a source of both Islamist and secular movements against Qaddafi that have been relentlessly crushed during his almost 42 years in power.
Today in town, members of the Warfalla tribe, Libya’s largest, and the Tarhuna, another national tribe, held anti-Qaddafi rallies after state TV reported last night that leaders of both tribes in Benghazi had thrown their support behind Qaddafi.
“Qaddafi is a liar,” was emblazoned on a poster of a few hundred Tarhuna men parading in the capital today and waving Libya’s independence-era flag, which was abolished by Qaddafi in favor of a green one of his own design.
“We want freedom, to be our own people, and he’s trying to divide us and create suspicion,” says Nuri al-Megrahi, marching with a group of men carrying a 60-by-20-foot independence flag down a major thoroughfare.
Nour el-din el-Sharif, a middle-aged man who spent 13 years in Qaddafi’s prisons for supporting a secular opposition group, predicts the city will fight “to our last drop” against Qaddafi. “This is a movement for basic freedom and dignity. We’re waiting for the international community, but either way we’ll fight.”
After initial reservations about military intervention, the US has nudged closer to a harder line on action in recent days, and has hinted at doing more than simply stopping Qaddafi’s fighter jets from bombing rebels.
"We need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone at this point,” said Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN. “The situation on the ground has evolved … a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians."
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