Libyan aircraft crashes after troops refuse bombing orders

Tobruk, Libya (CNN) — Even as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi called on the military to crack down on anti-government protesters, reports came in Wednesday that a military aircraft had crashed because the crew refused to carry out bombing orders.

An opposition figure told CNN the pilot had been ordered to bomb oil fields southwest of Benghazi but refused and instead ejected from the plane.

The Libyan newspaper Quryna reported that two people were on board, and that both — the pilot and co-pilot — parachuted out, allowing the plane to crash into an uninhabited area west of Ajdabiya, 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Benghazi. The newspaper cited military sources.

Quryna itself is a sign of changes sweeping through Libya. When protests began last week, it carried regime propaganda. But it later reported on the protests and casualty figures.

CNN could not immediately confirm reports for many areas in Libya. The Libyan government maintains tight control on communications and has not responded to repeated requests from CNN for access to the country. CNN has interviewed numerous witnesses by phone.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Wednesday that the death toll in Libya may be as high as 1,000, a representative for the Italian Foreign Ministry said.

Libya Interior Minister joins revolution The head of the largest trauma hospital in Benghazi told CNN on Wednesday that 202 people have been confirmed dead in the city since protests began last week. The opposition now controls Benghazi, as it does much of eastern Libya.

On Wednesday, the ninth day of protests, Gadhafi faced more defections from within his regime and new international pressure to halt military actions against demonstrators.

Mystery surrounded the whereabouts of one prominent defector. Abdul Fattah Younis, the country’s interior minister, told CNN he had resigned Monday after hearing that 300 unarmed civilians had been killed in Benghazi. He accused Gadhafi of planning to attack civilians on a wide scale and predicted that protesters will achieve victory in “days or hours.”

Hours after Younis said he resigned, the Libyan government announced Wednesday that he was kidnapped. State media reported that “gangs” had abducted him in Benghazi. Witnesses told CNN they saw al Abidi on Sunday and Monday in Benghazi, where he was siding with the protesters.

The United States is considering a range of tools to pressure Libya to end the violence and respect the rights of its people, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday. “That certainly includes sanctions that could be imposed either bilaterally or multilaterally,” Crowley said.

Peru and Botswana both announced they were breaking diplomatic ties with Libya. Peruvian President Alan Garcia said his country suspended diplomatic relations after condemning “the repression unleashed by Gadhafi.”

Botswana’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement, “In light of the massive and disproportionate force visited upon peaceful protesters by the Libyan security forces, the government of Botswana summoned the Libyan Representative in Gaborone and expressed its revulsion at the Libyan government’s response to peaceful protesters and called for restraint in dealing with the situation.”

The statement added that Botswana was joining “the international community which is calling for action to be taken against those persons who have committed crimes against humanity in the continuing conflict in Libya and hopes that such persons shall be referred to the International Criminal Court to account for their deeds.”

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo noted that Libya is not a party to the Rome Statute, which set up the court. “Intervention by the ICC on the alleged crimes committed in Libya can occur only if the Libyan authorities accept the jurisdiction of the Court,” his statement said. “In the absence of such step, the United Nations Security Council can decide to refer the situation to the Court. The Office of the Prosecutor will act only after either decision is taken.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for prompt European Union sanctions against Libya on Wednesday, such as “a ban on access to EU territory and financial monitoring.”

Residents in the Libyan capital of Tripoli heard sporadic gunshots overnight, a resident said Wednesday. By daybreak, the main roads in the city had been “cleaned off as if nothing happened,” she said.

Several more checkpoints have been set up, especially near the city center, restricting residents’ movements, she said.

And a food shortage is getting worse, she said. When her family went to get bread Wednesday morning, the shops were closed.

Police cars and downed trees blocked access to many of the roads in the neighborhoods, and security officials were not allowing pictures to be taken. Eyewitnesses saw about 10 civilian cars that had been burned out and bodies lying in the streets. Blood could be seen on many streets, a witness said.

In Tripoli’s Dahra neighborhood, people drove around in white vans, clearing away makeshift barricades, a witness said.

Witnesses said security forces increased their presence after Gadhafi defended his regime in a defiant speech Tuesday. He vowed to die a “martyr” and blamed the unrest on “rats” who are “agents” of foreign intelligence services. He warned that people found to be cooperating with outside forces fomenting discord and those who carry weapons against the country will be executed.

A government spokesman blamed U.S. and Israeli intelligence operatives for the unrest. “We will get rid of them, in collaboration with our people in the eastern province,” he said.

Referring to reports that the military had attacked civilians, the spokesman said, “We have reports and evidence they are not using arms unless against those who attacked the barracks.”

The government version of events differed markedly from what witnesses reported, including helicopter gunships firing into crowds of protesters.

Among the victims caught up in the violent unrest are asylum seekers and refugees, the U.N. refugee agency said as it urged neighboring countries not to turn them away.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Switzerland, the chief spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said that the reports she has received have been troubling.

“A journalist has passed information to us from Somalis in Tripoli who say they are being hunted on suspicion of being mercenaries. He says they feel trapped and are frightened to go out, even though there is little or no food at home,” Melissa Fleming said.

The U.N. refugee agency also praised Tunisia and Egypt for “positive indications” that they will keep their borders open to people fleeing Libya. The agency’s staff is working at the Tunisian border to monitor the situation and identify “vulnerable individuals for whom immediate assistance is needed — such as children without parents, women with children, and the elderly,” the agency said in a statement.

An English-speaking Egyptian fleeing Libya told CNN of systematic destruction of cell phone cards and cell phone memory chips at checkpoints on the road to the border with Tunisia.

He also reported thousands of people gathering at the Tripoli airport, both inside and outside.

Meanwhile, the United Nations terminated Gadhafi’s daughter’s stint as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Development Program. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Aisha Gadhafi was appointed goodwill ambassador for Libya in 2009 to address HIV/AIDS and violence against women in the country. Nesirky said the U.N. agency ended its agreement with her given recent events in Libya.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged leaders of regional countries to let people express their opinions, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. The Iranian official news agency also reported that Ahmadinejad wondered how the ruler of a country could kill his own people using guns and tanks.

But after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime was toppled following 18 days of protests this month, Iranian protesters took to the streets and were met with force

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Posted by on February 23, 2011. Filed under FEATURED,NEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.