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Mercenaries fire on protesters in Libya; Bahrain opposition leader back as thousands rally; king reshuffles cabinet; five dead in Yemen; protests continue in Egypt
- Sunday, February 27, 2011 - From Print Edition


TRIPOLI/MANAMA/ADEN/CAIRO: World powers struggled to find a way to stop Libyan leader Muammer Qaddafi lashing out at his people as he clings to power in Tripoli.


US President Barack Obama imposed personal sanctions on Qaddafi and four of his sons, in a clear attempt to further weaken his teetering regime and punish brutal assaults against his people.


Obama wielded presidential power in an executive order on Friday to seize the assets of Qaddafi and named family members in the US and globally within the auspices of US financial institutions, saying the “human dignity” of Libyans “cannot be denied.”


Washington also shuttered its Tripoli embassy, warned its spies were seeking evidence of “atrocities” in Libya and said that Qaddafi had lost the confidence of his people.


“Peace is coming back to our country,” one of Qaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, told reporters flown into Libya under close supervision. “If you hear fireworks don’t mistake it for shooting,” the 38-year-old London-educated younger Qaddafi said, smiling.


He acknowledged pro-Qaddafi forces had “a problem” with Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, and Zawiya, also in the west, where protesters had beaten back counter-attacks by the military but said the Army was prepared to negotiate.


Earlier, there were reports that helicopter-borne mercenaries fighting for Qaddafi fired on protesters attending a funeral in the western city of Misrata on Saturday.


The mercenaries had been airlifted to Misrata, Libya’s third city situated some 150 kilometres east of the Tripoli, a witness told AFP.


They then opened fire on the relatives of the victims who were about to enter a mosque, he said, adding the mercenaries also shot at a building that housed an opposition-run radio station.


The witness also said the local chieftain in Misrata was contacted on the telephone by Qaddafi’s aides, who proposed establishing an independent state in the city on the condition that it does not attack Tripoli.


Meanwhile, opposition leader Hassan Mashaima returned to Bahrain from self-imposed exile, as thousands of demonstrators marched in the capital Manama to demand the Sunni rulers stand down.


“The time has come for true unity and our priority today is for the opposition to sit down with the protesters at Pearl Square and clearly set our demands,” Mashaima, who had been in Britain, told reporters at his home.


Protesters on Saturday massed in a Manama street outside the walled compound where the Foreign Ministry is located, chanting “Down, down Hamad!”


“Leave Hamad, leave Hamad,” shouted thousands of flag-waving demonstrators as they poured out of Pearl Square, epicentre of the protests which began on February 14. “The people want to topple the regime,” they roared, forming a procession towards a major highway, blocking traffic.


King Hamad also reshuffled his cabinet, changing the portfolios of five ministers in a move to calm down the protestors, the official BNA news agency reported.


The move did not affect the position of the prime minister, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, a target of the demonstrations.


In Yemeni city of Aden, five more people have died after being shot during anti-government protests on Friday, medical sources said on Saturday.


That brought to seven the number killed in the clashes with security forces in Aden. About 50 people were wounded. Twenty-four people have now been killed since Feb 17 in daily protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule.


Meanwhile, some 2,000 protesters marched onto Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Saturday to call for a new government, denouncing violence by authorities after military police beat and arrested demonstrators.


Protesters demanded the replacement of the government of Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq, which includes several ministers from toppled president Hosni Mubarak’s regime.


“The revolution will continue until all our demands are met,” read one banner.