Libyan Revolt Appoints Provisional Government

Feb. 26: People cheer during a celebration of the 'liberation' of eastern Libya in Benghzai.

Feb. 26: People cheer during a celebration of the 'liberation' of eastern Libya in Benghzai.  (AFP)

A member of the Benghazi city council says the Libyan cities under rebel control have appointed an ex-justice minister to lead a provisional government.

Fathi Baja says opponents of Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi named Mustafa Abdel-Jalil to the provisional leadership post.

Baja said Sunday that Abdel-Jalil was chosen by the committees running the eastern Libyan cities now in the rebellion's hands.

On Saturday, Libya's top envoy to the U.S. also said Qaddafi opponents were rallying behind efforts to form an alternative government led by Abdel-Jalil, who has criticized Qaddafi’s brutal crackdown on protesters and recently said he had proof the Libyan leader ordered the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people.

Ambassador Ali Aujali said that the international community should back the movement, saying that it would help to hasten Qaddafi’s exit.

"He is a very honest man, a man with dignity," Aujali said. "I hope this caretaker government will get the support of Libyans and of the international community."

It was not immediately clear how much support the proposed provisional leadership commands.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera television Saturday, Abdel-Jalil said his government would guide the transition for up to three months, until free and fair elections could be held.

He said the decision to form an interim government was made Saturday during a meeting of opposition figures in the eastern city of Benghazi, which is outside Qaddafi's control.

The interim government will be based there until Tripoli is "liberated," Abdel-Jalil said.

On Saturday, the embattled Libyan regime passed out guns to civilian supporters, set up checkpoints Saturday and sent armed patrols roving the terrorized capital to try to maintain control of Qaddafi's stronghold and quash dissent as rebels consolidate control elsewhere in the North African nation.

As violence mounted, Qaddafi came under growing pressure from the international community to halt the crackdown on his people. Echoing moves by the U.S., Britain and other nations, the U.N. Security Council on Saturday imposed sanctions, including an arms embargo and a travel ban, and said the International Criminal Court in the Hague should investigate.

Residents of its eastern Tajoura district spread concrete blocks, large rocks and even chopped-down palm trees as makeshift barricades to prevent the SUVs filled with young men wielding automatic weapons from entering their neighborhood -- a hotspot of previous protests.

With tensions running high in Tripoli, scores of people in the neighborhood turned out at a funeral for a 44-year-old man killed in clashes with pro-regime forces. Anwar Algadi was killed Friday, with the cause of death listed as "a live bullet to the head," according to his brother, Mohammed.

Armed men in green armbands, along with uniformed security forces check those trying to enter the district, where graffiti that says "Qaddafi, you Jew," "Down to the dog," and "Tajoura is free" was scrawled on walls.

Outside the capital, rebels held a long swath of about half of Libya's 1,000-mile Mediterranean coastline where most of the population lives, and even captured a brigadier general and a soldier Saturday as the Libyan army tried to retake an air base east of Tripoli. The state-run news agency also said the opposition held an air defense commander and several other officers.

On Friday, pro-Qaddafi militiamen -- including snipers -- fired on protesters trying to mount the first significant anti-government marches in days in Tripoli.

Qaddafi, speaking from the ramparts of a historic Tripoli fort, told supporters to prepare to defend the nation as he faced the biggest challenge to his 42-year rule.

"At the suitable time, we will open the arms depot so all Libyans and tribes become armed, so that Libya becomes red with fire," Qaddafi said.

The international community toughened its response to the bloodshed, while Americans and other foreigners were evacuated from the chaos roiling Libya.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to slap sanctions on the Qaddafi regime. The council imposed an arms embargo and called on U.N. member states to freeze the assets of Qaddafi and his children. The council also imposed a travel ban on the Qaddafi family and 10 close associates.

Council members also agreed 15-0 to refer the regime's deadly crackdown to a permanent war crimes tribunal for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity.

The action came after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said some estimates indicate more than 1,000 people have been killed in less than two weeks since the protests broke out in Libya.

President Barack Obama said Qaddafi has lost his legitimacy to rule and must step down immediately. Obama, who made the comments Saturday to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, signed an executive order a day earlier that froze assets held by Qaddafi and four of his children in the United States.

In Tripoli, most residents stayed in their homes Saturday, terrified of bands of armed men at checkpoints and patrolling the city.

A 40-year-old business owner said he had seen Qaddafi supporters enter one of the regime's Revolutionary Committee headquarters Saturday and leave with arms. He said the regime is offering a car and money to any supporters bringing three people with them to join the effort.

"Someone from the old revolutionary committees will go with them so they'll be four," the witness said when reached by telephone from Cairo. "They'll arm them to drive around the city and terrorize people."

Other residents reported seeing trucks full of civilians with automatic rifles patrolling their neighborhoods. Many were young, even teenagers, and wore green arm bands or cloths on their heads to show their affiliation to the regime, residents said. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Tripoli, home to about a third of Libya's population of 6 million, is the center of the eroding territory that Qaddafi still controls.

Even in the Qaddafi-held pocket of northwestern Libya around Tripoli, several cities have also fallen to the rebellion. Militiamen and pro-Qaddafi troops were repelled when they launched attacks trying to take back opposition-held territory in Zawiya and Misrata in fighting that killed at least 30 people.

Qaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam, told foreign journalists invited by the government to Tripoli that there were no casualties in Tripoli and that the capital was "calm."

"Everything is peaceful," he said. "Peace is coming back to our country."

He said the regime wants negotiations with the opposition and said there were "two minor problems" in Misrata and Zawiya. There, he said, "we are dealing with terrorist people," hut he hoped to reach a peaceful settlement with them.

Most shops in Tripoli were closed and long lines formed at bakeries as people ventured out for supplies.

In Misrata, a resident said the opposition was still in control of the city, which was calm Saturday, with many shops open and a local committee running civic affairs.

But the opposition only held parts of the sprawling Misrata Air Base after Friday's attack by Qaddafi supporters, he added.

The troops used tanks against the rebels at the base and succeeded in retaking part of it in battles with residents and army units who had joined the uprising against Qaddafi, said a doctor and a resident wounded in the battle on the edge of Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, about 120 miles from the capital. The doctor said 25 people had been killed in fighting at the base since Thursday.

The opposition also held complete control of Sabratha, a town west of Tripoli famed for nearby ancient Roman ruins, with no police or any security forces associated with the Qaddafi regime, said Khalid Ahmed, a resident. He added that tribes were trying to organize a march on Tripoli, although a checkpoint outside the capital would stop anyone from entering.

"All of Libya is together," Ahmed said. "We are not far from toppling the regime."