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Reports: Libyan pilots refuse to bomb city, eject from plane

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Report: Pilot refused to bomb, crashes
  • Tripoli streets were largely deserted Wednesday evening
  • Italy's foreign minister says Libyan death toll may be 1,000
  • The State Department says the U.S. considers sanctions
  • Pilot and co-pilot eject, refusing bombing orders, a newspaper reports

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Benghazi, Libya (CNN) -- Even as Moammar Gadhafi called on the military to crack down on anti-government protesters, reports emerged Wednesday that the Libyan leader was facing growing international and domestic opposition, including from his own military.

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

Citing military sources, the Libyan newspaper Quryna reported that the two people aboard -- the pilot and co-pilot -- parachuted out and that the plane then crashed into an uninhabited area west of Ajdabiya, 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Benghazi.

Quryna itself is a sign of the 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 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.

A Libyan Arab Airlines plane was denied permission to land in Malta on Wednesday, Maltese government sources said. Permission was denied for "clearance reasons," because officials did not know who was on board, the sources said.

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Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini characterized the situation as a civil war, "with the authorities of the capital ordering attacks against the same Libyan people -- bombings and acts of unprecedented violence." In a speech to the Italian Senate, Frattini said, "Unconfirmed reports spoke of 1,000 deaths; other sources have given even higher figures." He said the claim from official sources that put the total number of deaths nationwide at 200 to 300 deaths "frankly lacks credibility."

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 and much of the rest 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.

Uncertainty surrounded the whereabouts of one prominent defector. Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi, the country's interior minister, told CNN Wednesday in a telephone interview that he had resigned Monday and was supporting the opposition after hearing that 300 unarmed civilians had been killed in Benghazi. "Gadhafi told me he was planning on using airplanes against the people in Benghazi and I told him that he will have thousands of people killed if he does that," al Abidi said.

He accused Gadhafi of planning to attack civilians on a wide scale but predicted that protesters would emerge victorious in "days or hours."

But hours after that interview, the Libyan government announced Wednesday that the former interior minister had been kidnapped. State media reported that "gangs" had abducted him in Benghazi.

But Benghazi, now solidly in the camp of the protesters, was peaceful Wednesday. The only shooting that could be heard was celebratory gunfire. Crowds cheered as international journalists drove through the city, thanked them for arriving and threw them candy.

Absent Gadhafi's influence, residents formed ad hoc committees to take over the business of running the city, ensuring that hospitals were adequately staffed and supplied, banks were protected, electricity was flowing and garbage was picked up.

They also formed a security force to defend the city in the event that forces loyal to Gadhafi were to attack.

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One member of the ad hoc government said forces here have been in telephone contact with tribes in the west of the country, many of whom remained loyal to Gadhafi, and have tried to persuade them to reject him.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon left no doubt about where the world body stands on Libya. "The reported nature and scale of the attacks on civilians are egregious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law," he told reporters. "I condemn them loudly and without qualification. Those responsible must be held accountable in courts of law."

He noted that the Security Council and the League of Arab States on Tuesday each issued strong statements on the matter. "The world has spoken with one voice," he said. "The government of Libya must meet its responsibility to protect its people."

Ban added that he was sending his senior advisers to the region.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said the United States condemns the use of violence. "The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable," he told reporters as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood beside him. Libya "must be held accountable" for its failure to meet its responsibilities, he said, adding, "The entire world is watching."

He said he was sending Clinton to Geneva for international meetings about Libya.

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 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 that it 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."

But 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.

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 tried Wednesday morning to buy bread, they found the bakeries were closed.

Police cars and downed trees blocked many of the roads in the neighborhoods, and security officials were not allowing pictures to be taken. Witnesses reported seeing about 10 burned-out civilian cars and bodies lying in the streets. Many of the streets were stained with blood, a witness said.

In Tripoli's Dahra neighborhood, people driving white vans cleared away makeshift barricades, a witness said.

Wednesday evening, planes circled overhead and shots were fired, though it wasn't clear whether the shots were coming from the air or the ground, a witness said. The streets were largely deserted, but one man could be heard in the street screaming in Arabic, "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet!" -- a liturgical slogan often invoked by Muslims in challenging situations, the 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.

Those caught up in the unrest include 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 she had received troubling reports about their plight.

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

The U.N. refugee agency 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.

In an interview on Libyan state-run television, Aisha Gadhafi said she had heard the news. "I can't verify if it's true or not, but all the Libyans who know me ... know that I am the goodwill ambassador with or without the United Nations."

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 this month following 18 days of protests, Iranian protesters emulated them by taking to the streets, where they were met with force.

CNN's Richard Roth, Waffa Munayyer, Pam Benson, Ben Brumfield, Amir Ahmed, Ingrid Formanek, Eve Bower, Salma Abdelaziz, Mitra Mobasherat and Jaime FlorCruz and journalist Natalino Fenech contributed to this report

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