Libyan army takes two cities from rebels; Witness reports gunfire at Saudi protest
As demonstrations continue around the Middle East, we keep you updated on the developing situation. Use this map to keep up with the events in Libya and this map to keep up with all of the demonstrations, day by day.
We'll be marking time in Eastern Standard Time. Tunisia is six hours ahead, Egypt and Libya are seven hours ahead, and Yemen and Iraq are eight hours ahead. (See World Clock here.)
As we close up for the night, correspondent Liz Sly reports that the Libyan army has taken the strategic oil port of Ras Lanuf and reportedly crushed the opposition in the town of Zawiyah, 30 miles west of the capital, Tripoli.
Libyan officials were triumphant.
Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of the Libyan leader, vowed before a crowd of around 2,000 frenzied supporters gathered in a hall in Tripoli that the Libyan army would press ahead with its offensive and march on Benghazi.
"Hear it now, I have only two words for our brothers and sisters in the east: We're coming," he roared at the crowd, pumping his fist. "Tonight Ajdabiyah, tomorrow Benghazi," the crowd roared back, referring to the next town on the route to Benghazi, the capital of the rebel-held east.
One Libyan reacted to the news on Twitter:
They will try to defeat us, but they will never destroy us
Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, told reporters at a briefing that the Libyan military had recaptured the town of Zawiyah and managed to "clean the city (of Ras Lanuf) completely."
Kaim also responded angrily to France's decision to recognize the transitional council set up to govern the east. Governments that are talking about recognizing the council are "leading the country to a civil war and to foreign intervention, and I'm sure no Libyan wants this," he said.
Thanks for being with us today, and come visit us tomorrow for more updates.
There were conflicting reports that Saudi police fired shots at protesters in the kingdom's east Thursday, according to an AP report citing an anonymous witness. The Washington Post has not independently confirmed this report. A Post correspondent has just landed in Saudi Arabia. We'll update when we have more information.
The witness, in the eastern city of Qatif, 12 miles north of the capital, said gunfire and stun grenades were fired by police at several hundred protesters marching in the city streets. The witness, a Shiite activist, said he saw at least one protester injured.
"There was firing, it was sporadic," the witness said.
A Global Voices Online editor tweeted:
mark my words: watch Saudi kill its people for asking for ... Rights
As Bahrain prepares for a march on the royal court Friday, clashes broke out in Sar, Reuters reported. Both Sunnis and Shi'ites live in Sar, which is about 10 miles west of the capital Manama. Students' parents from both groups gathered at a school in Sar and demonstrations erupted between the two groups of parents soon after. One student said:
"During the break we went on a peaceful protest, we gathered, a few girls. Next thing we know a group of naturalized people were let into school and the school door was locked, they had iron and wooden sticks and knives."
Watch a video of the clashes at Sar here.
Moderates are also worried that the march on the royal court planned for Friday could spark serious clashes between pro-government Sunnis and anti-government Shi'ites.
Bahrain's majority Shiites are trying to loosen the Sunni monarchy's grip on power, staging daily demonstrations and marching on state and financial institutions they say symbolize political oppression and economic inequality.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Egypt and Tunisia next week, Reuters reported Thursday. Clinton will be the most senior American official to visit the region after popular revolts toppled governments in both countries.
"I intend to convey strong support of the Obama administration and the American people, that we wish to be a partner in the important work that lies ahead," Clinton told a congressional panel Thursday.
She also said she will meet with Libyan opposition figures during the trip and in the United States. WATCH:
A ban on protests was enacted earlier this month by the government after small groups of demonstrators gathered to demand political and social change in the conservative kingdom.
Several thousand people have joined Internet groups calling for Friday's protest in the capital, Riyadh. In February, Saudi King Abdullah announced a number of reforms, such as pay raises and increased spending on social programs, but protesters were not appeased.
Saudi Arabia has provided a buffer to declining oil supplies resulting from unrest across the Middle East, but that may end Friday. Energy Digital reports that Friday's "Day of Rage" may cause the biggest oil price spike yet.
Following France's announcement of recognition for the Libyan opposition earlier Thursday, the U.S. looks as if it will be pressed to follow suit.
The Libyan Ambassador to the U.S. will join the Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations Friday at a press conference to call on the Obama administration and Congress to recognize the newly-formed National Transitional Council (NTC) as the sole legitimate government of Libya.
The ambassadors will be joined by Libyans from across the United States and Canada who support the Libyan revolution and the NTC's goal of establishing a "free, just, and democratic Libyan state."
You can read their joint statement, which also functions as an online petition of support, here.
Meanwhile, British Secretary of State William Hague tweeted about his talks with the opposition:
Have spoken to #Libya opposition representative Jabril about pressure on the regime, humanitarian help & no fly zone planning
Moammar Gaddafi forces launched more air strikes on oil facilities in an attempt to take back crucial rebel-held territories. WATCH:
Moammar Gaddafi's forces pushed rebel forces from the strategic oil port of Ras Lanuf Thursday with a rain of artillery fire, Paul Schemm reported.
The lightly armed rebel forces fled back to opposition territory further east by the hundreds. One witness said government forces were showering rockets or tank shells on the city in what appeared to be preparation for a full-scale advance.
The retreat was a major setback as Gaddafi's tanks moved farther along Libya's main Mediterranean coastal road than they have been since the rebels seized most of the country's east.
Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh has promised to put a new constitution to a referendum this year and move the country to a "parliamentary system," special correspondent Portia Walker reported.
The pledge comes a day after two people were killed in fresh unrest.
The new constitution would guarantee the separation of legislative and executive powers and prepare for the holding of new general elections that would assure an effective parliamentary rule, Saleh said Thursday in a speech to thousands in Sanaa.
The spokesman for the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), dismissed Saleh's initiative:
"Firstly we will form a new constitution based on the separation of powers. A referendum on this new constitution will be held before the end of this year," he said.
"I'm already sure that this initiative won't be accepted by the opposition, but in order to do the right thing, I am offering this to the people and they will decide," Saleh said.
Watch the speech (in Arabic) here:
Russia has banned all weapons sales to Libya, Al Jazeera reported Thursday. The move to suspend all arms contracts with Gaddafi's government reinforced U.N. sanctions that had been placed on Gaddafi's regime.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an order that "bans the export from the Russian Federation to Libya as well as the sale, delivery and transfer ... of all types of arms and related materials, including weapons and ammunition, combat vehicles and military hardware," a Kremlin statement released Thursday said.
Morocco's King Mohammed VI promised sweeping constitutional reforms, including real powers for a popularly elected prime minister instead of a royal appointee, and a free judiciary, AFP reported Thursday.
Protests for more social justice and limits on royal powers erupted in Morocco less than a month ago.
The king pledged to draw up a new draft constitution, saying he has a "firm commitment to giving a strong impetus to the dynamic and deep reforms ... taking place."
On Wednesday, two journalists working for the BBC in Libya said they were arrested, tortured and subjected to a mock execution by security forces of Gaddafi's regime.
Thursday, the Guardian said correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who has been reporting from western Libya for the past two weeks, was missing. Abdul-Ahad has also reported and photographed for the Washington Post.
Abdul-Ahad entered the country from Tunisia and was last in touch with the paper through a third party on Sunday. Abdul-Ahad was on the outskirts of Zawiya Sunday, a town west of the capital that has seen fierce fighting during the past few days.
Urgent efforts are underway to establish the whereabouts of Abdul-Ahad.
A Brazilian journalist traveling with Abdul-Ahad has also gone missing, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo reported that it lost direct contact a week ago with its correspondent, Andrei Netto, who was covering the unrest in Libya. The paper said it feared he had been taken prisoner by Libyan government forces.
Journalists tweeted about the disappearance of the two journalists:
Worrisome news. Guardian correspondent Ghaith Abdul Ahad, one of the bravest reporters around, gone missing in Libya http://t.co/jjRF0aN
Anyone in Libya with info or can help, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad and Brazilian journalist Andrei Netto missing in Libya. http://t.co/cQ8TQGy
France officially recognized the Libyan opposition Transitional National Council as the country's legitimate government Thursday, the first country to do so, the Associated Press reported.
The announcement came after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with two representatives of the council, and a day after the European Parliament urged the European Union to recognize the rebels.
Sarkozy is the first head of state to meet with representatives of the opposition. President Sarkozy said that France would also send an ambassador to the eastern city of Benghazi, the provisional capital of the rebel-held areas, and receive an envoy from the Libyan opposition in Paris.
NATO defense ministers will meet Thursday to discuss military options for Libya, including a proposed no-fly zone.
Meanwhile, the EU is hitting the regime of Moammar Gaddafi with more financial sanctions, adding five financial institutions whose assets and resources will be frozen to a list of more than two dozen individuals close to the Libyan leader.
The president of the international Red Cross says doctors in Libya have seen a dramatic rise in the number of casualties, mostly civilians, AP reported.
Jakob Kellenberger said Thursday that local doctors over the past few days saw "a sharp increase in the number of casualties arriving at hospitals in Ajdabiya and Misurata", cities in which there have been heavy fighting and air strikes.
In Misurata, where the Post's Tara Bahrampour reported Thursday that a government siege is intensifying, 40 patients have been treated for serious injuries and 22 fatalities were recorded, the Red Cross said. In Ajdabiya, the Red Cross surgical team operated on 55 wounded in the past week and "civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence," Kellenberger said.
Kellenberger said the Red Cross is cut off from access in government-controlled western areas, including Tripoli, but believes those locations are "even more severely affected by the fighting" than eastern rebel-held territories.
A CNN reporter tweeted:
"We are doctors, we have no weapons. Why are they doing this?" Dr Fathi from bombarded Ras Lanouf hospital.
Reformist Mohamed ElBaradei announced Wednesday that he would run in Egypt's presidential election this year and called for a completely new constitution instead of temporary amendments, Reuters reported.
ElBaradei, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 and a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had been expected to run but it is the first time he explicitly announced he would be a candidate.
"When the door of presidential nominations opens, I intend to nominate myself," El Baradei said on a talk show on the privately-owned ONTV channel.
He also said he would oppose constitutional amendments being put to a referendum on March 19, calling for a new constitution instead.
"I will not vote for these constitutional amendments. I will vote against these amendments."
Elizabeth Flock and Sam Sanders
| March 10, 2011; 1:53 PM ET
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