iran riots2.jpgProtesters on Monday night closed in on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s official residence as his son vowed the strongman would fight the popular revolt to “the last man standing”.

 

 

News agencies reported tribal leaders spoke out against Gaddafi and army units were defecting, joining angry protesters.

 

Gaddafi’s Justice Minister was reported to have resigned in protest at the excessive use of violence against the protesters, according to the Quryna newspaper.

 

Libyan Ambassador to India Ali al-Essawi also reportedly resigned in protest against his government’s violent crackdown on demonstrators.

 

Two Libyan air force jets were reported to have had landed in Malta together with civilian helicopters. They were believed to be fleeing Benghazi.

 

Protests erupted on Monday for the first time in Tripoli after days of violent unrest in the eastern city of Benghazi.

 

Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam appeared on national television in an attempt to calm people, saying the army would enforce security.

 

He spoke as reports suggested security forces were looting banks and other government institutions in the capital. Protesters broke into several police stations and wrecked them.

 

“Our spirits are high and the leader Muammar Gaddafi is leading the battle in Tripoli, and we are behind him as is the Libyan army,” Saif-al-Islam said.

 

He blamed Libyan exiles for fomenting the violence. But he also promised dialogue on reforms and wage rises.

 

The cajoling may not be enough to douse the anger unleashed after four decades of rule by Gaddafi, mirroring events in Egypt where a popular revolt overthrew  the seemingly impregnable President Hosni Mubarak 11 days ago.

 

In the coastal city of Benghazi protesters appeared to be largely in control after forcing troops and police to retreat to a compound. Government buildings were set ablaze and ransacked.

 

In the first sign of serious unrest in the capital, thousands of protesters clashed with Gaddafi supporters.

 

Gunfire rang out in the night and police used teargas to disperse demonstrators, some of whom threw stones at Gaddafi billboards.

 

Human Rights Watch said at least 223 people had been killed in five days of violence. Most were in Benghazi, the cradle of the uprising and a region where Gaddafi’s grip has always been weaker than elsewhere in the oil-rich desert nation.

 

Habib al-Obaidi, a surgeon at the Al-Jalae hospital, said the bodies of 50 people, mostly shot dead, were brought there on Sunday afternoon.

 

Two-hundred wounded had arrived, he said.

 

“One of the victims was obliterated after being hit by an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) to the abdomen,” he said.

 

Members of an army unit known as the “Thunderbolt” squad had brought wounded comrades to the hospital, he said. The soldiers said they had defected to the cause of the protesters and had fought and defeated Gaddafi’s elite guards.

 

“They are now saying that they have overpowered the Praetorian Guard and that they have joined the people’s revolt,” another man at the hospital, lawyer Mohamed al-Mana, told Reuters by telephone.

 

If Gaddafi had hoped to dismiss Benghazi as a provincial problem, he faced an alarming development as crowds took to the streets of Tripoli.One resident told Reuters he could hear gunshots in the streets and crowds of people.

 

“We’re inside the house and the lights are out. That’s what I hear, gunshots and people. I can’t go outside,” he said.

An expatriate worker said anti-government demonstrators were gathering in residential complexes.

“The police are dispersing them. I can also see burning cars,” he said.

 

The leader of the eastern Al-Zuwayya tribe threatened to cut oil exports unless authorities halted what he called the “oppression of protesters”.

 

Speaking to Al Jazeera television, Shaikh Faraj al Zuway said: “We will stop oil exports to Western countries within 24 hours” if the violence did not stop.

 

Akram Al-Warfalli, a leading figure in the Al Warfalla tribe, told Al Jazeera: “We tell the brother (Gaddafi), well he’s no longer a brother, we tell him to leave the country.”

 

The Libyan uprising is one of series of revolts that have raced like wildfire across the Arab world since December, toppling the long-time rulers of Tunisia and Egypt and threatening entrenched dynasties from Bahrain to Yemen.