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Pressure mounted Monday on Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi as anti-regime forces overran towns in his traditional

Tripoli is next

Libyan protest leaders establish transitional 'national council' in several eastern and western cities seized from regime.

 

By Deborah Pasmantier – NALUT, Libya

 western stronghold, after world leaders called on him to end his 41-year rule.

As top international diplomats gathered in Geneva for a meeting over the crisis, there were increasing signs the Libyan strongman's grip on power was slipping even further.

Protest leaders on Sunday established a transitional "national council" in several eastern and western cities seized from the Gathafi regime and called on the army to help them take the capital Tripoli.

The United States said it was prepared to offer "any kind of assistance" to Libyans seeking to overthrow Gathafi as his opponents piece together a transitional body comprising representatives from the liberated cities.

The unrest in the oil-rich North African state has set off a "humanitarian emergency", the UN refugee agency UNHCR said, as almost 100,000 migrant workers fled Libya in a mass exodus.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the calls of world leaders, including President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, for him to quit.

"We are just at the beginning of what will follow Gathafi," she said.

"First we have to see the end of his regime and with no further bloodshed," she said, noting Washington was eager for his ouster "as soon as possible."

"We want him to leave."

Speaking ahead of the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Clinton said she would meet many of her counterparts to craft humanitarian and political responses as Libyans try to "organise themselves post-Gathafi."

At the weekend, the UN Security Council imposed a travel and assets ban on Gathafi's regime and ordered a probe into possible crimes against humanity after at least 1,000 people were killed in a crackdown by his forces.

London said it had frozen Gathafi family assets in Britain, amid newspaper reports these amount to about 20 billion pounds (32 billion dollars, 23 billion euros) in liquid assets, mostly in London.

Australia is investigating claims Gathafi's family has stashed millions of dollars in assets down under, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Monday. Canberra has launched a forensic probe to track down any assets the crumbling regime may have secretly built up in Australia.

A community organiser, Abdel Hafiz Ghoqa, told reporters in Benghazi on Sunday that a transitional "national council" had been set up in cities seized from the regime.

"The creation of a national council has been announced in all freed cities of Libya," he said.

The council is the "face of Libya in the transitional period," he said, adding consultations were under way on the body's composition and duties.

"The people of Libya will liberate their cities," Ghoqa said. "We are counting on the army to liberate Tripoli."

On Saturday, former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who quit Gathafi's regime on February 21, said a transitional government would lead Libya for three months, before an election.

In neighbouring Egypt, visiting US senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman urged Washington to recognise a transitional government in Libya and provide it with weapons and humanitarian assistance to oust Gathafi.

On Sunday, the strongman dismissed the UN sanctions as invalid and said calm had returned to Libya as the territories held by the opposition were "surrounded."

In his telephone statement to Serbian television, he said: "Libya is completely quiet. There is nothing unusual. There is no unrest."

Of the territory held by the opposition, Gathafi said: "There is a small group (of opponents) that is surrounded, but we will sort that out."

But his crumbling regime now controls only some western areas around the capital and a few long-time bastions in the arid south, reporters and witnesses say.

A reporter arriving in Nalut, a town of 66,000 people, 235 kilometres (145 miles) west of Tripoli, found Gathafi loyalists had entirely disappeared.

"The city has been liberated since February 19. It has been run by a revolutionary committee named by the town's communities," Shaban Abu Sitta, a local lawyer and member of a revolutionary committee, said.

"The towns of Rhibat, Kabaw, Jado, Rogban, Zentan, Yefren, Kekla, Gherien and Hawamed have also been free for days. In all these towns, Gathafi's forces have gone and a revolutionary committee put in place," he said.

Regime opponents appeared to control the city of Az-Zawiyah, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of the capital, where thousands took to the streets to denounce the teetering leader in front of invited journalists.

The journalists were welcomed by thousands of demonstrators, shouting "Down with the regime, we want freedom." Some were armed and fired into the air.

No Libyan security services were visible, but Az-Zawiyah saw clashes between regime supporters and opponents last Thursday, in which a human rights group said more than 35 people were killed.

In Tripoli, residents said banks were open but bread and petrol remained tightly rationed as the rebel grip on large swathes of the vast desert nation played havoc with the distribution of goods.

Tanks and jeeps driven by regime partisans were patrolling almost deserted neighbourhoods around the capital, residents said.

As the crisis hit oil drove prices up to $113.98 per barrel in Asian trading on Monday, the UN refugee agency said a "humanitarian emergency" was underway as thousands of foreigners sought to flee Libya by land, sea and air.

Two ferries docked late Sunday with some 300 people on the Mediterranean island of Malta. As the closest European Union member state located just 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Libya, it has become a key hub in the desperate scramble to get foreigners out of Libya.

 

 

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