Benghazi braces amid fears of Kadhafi attack



BENGHAZI, Karim Talbi- Libya's eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi was braced for the worst on Friday night after rumours that Moamer Kadhafi's troops were within striking distance of the Mediterranean city.
Hundreds of men, some riding in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns, flooded out of the city in response to a call from Benghazi's rebel-run radio to swiftly man their posts.



Benghazi braces amid fears of Kadhafi attack
Several loud explosions, some of them followed by anti-aircraft fire, were heard inside Benghazi and new checkpoints sprang up as word spread that Libyan leader Kadhafi's forces could be on their way.
There was no immediate confirmation that government forces had moved closer to the city and his deputy foreign minister, at a news conference in Tripoli, denied there were any plans to attack the rebel bastion.
"The armed forces are now located outside the city of Benghazi and we have no intention of entering Benghazi," Khaled Kaaim told reporters.
He said Kadhafi's government intended to abide by a ceasefire they had announced earlier in the day, which rebels who have long pleaded for foreign intervention charged had since been violated continuously.
Kaaim acknowledged that checkpoints had been set up outside rebel-held cities, but stressed that "any sovereign country is free to take (security) measures."
US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, delivered a blunt ultimatum to Kadhafi, threatening military action if he ignores non-negotiable UN Security Council demands for a ceasefire and a retreat from rebel bastions.
Security Council Resolution 1973 passed on Thursday authorises "all necessary measures" to establish a no-fly zone, protect civilian areas and impose a ceasefire on Kadhafi's military.
The resolution, which sparked massive celebrations in a relieved Benghazi, "demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians."
Obama said: "Kadhafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from (the cities of) Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas."
Later, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, asked in an interview with CNN television whether Kadhafi was in violation of the resolution, said: "Yes. He is."
In Benghazi, preachers took to loudspeakers at mosques across the city to chant religious phrases and rally the city's residents. Communication inside the city was virtually impossible, with mobile phone lines shut down.
"We heard it on the news, that they are coming," said one resident manning a newly-set up checkpoint, who declined to give his name.
"We came here to protect the place, just in case," added the man, his face wrapped in a chequered scarf. "We're not scared, we either stay here or we die."
Benghazi rebel radio called on the city's fighters to head 80 kilometres (50 miles) south to the village of Al-Magrun, to "block Kadhafi's forces."
"We call on the soldiers and officers to take their arms and go to Al-Magrun to defend the entrance to Benghazi," a message carried on the station said. "We call on them to go there now and very quickly."
A flow of traffic, including Grad rockets mounted on trucks and at least one tank, could be seen moving southward outside Benghazi, along with hundreds of fighters.
Mohammed Gihani, only 17, was on his way to Al-Magrun armed with just a knife.
"I don't have any other weapons, but if all I can do is this," he said, drawing his hand across his neck, "then I'll do it."
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Saturday, March 19th 2011
Karim Talbi
           


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