CAIRO – Deep cracks opened in Moammar Gadhafi’s regime Monday, with Libyan government officials at home and abroad resigning, air force pilots defecting and a bloody crackdown on protest in the capital of Tripoli. World leaders were outraged at the “vicious forms of repression” used against the demonstrators.
Pro-Gadhafi militia drove around Tripoli with loudspeakers and told people not to leave their homes, witnesses said, as security forces sought to control the unrest that swept eastern parts of the country.
State TV said the military had “stormed the hideouts of saboteurs” and urged the public to back security forces. Protesters called for a demonstration in Tripoli’s central Green Square and in front of Gadhafi’s residence, but witnesses in various neighborhoods described a scene of intimidation: helicopters hovering above the main seaside boulevard and pro-Gadhafi gunmen firing from moving cars and even shooting at the facades of homes to terrify the population.
Youths trying to gather in the streets were forced to scatter and run for cover by the gunfire, according to several witnesses, who, like many reached in Tripoli by The Associated Press, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. They said people wept over the bodies of the dead left in the street.
Warplanes swooped low over Tripoli in the evening and snipers took up position on roofs, apparently to stop people outside the capital from joining protests, according to Mohammed Abdul-Malek, a London-based opposition activist in touch with residents.
Gadhafi, whose whereabouts were not known, was scheduled to go on Libyan state television early Tuesday.
He appeared to have lost the support of at least one major tribe, several military units and his own diplomats, including the delegation to the United Nations. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi accused the longest-serving Arab leader of committing genocide against his own people in the current crisis.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Gadhafi to “stop this unacceptable bloodshed” and said the world was watching the events “with alarm.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting neighboring Egypt, called the crackdown “appalling.”
“The regime is using the most vicious forms of repression against people who want to see that country – which is one of the most closed and one of the most autocratic – make progress,” he said.