Libyan rebels are claiming to have captured the strategic oil port town of Brega Saturday as fighting continues against forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Popular protests are also continuing across the region, especially in Yemen and Syria.
News that the key oil port town of Brega had fallen to rebel fighters Saturday appeared to reverse the recent trend by pro-Gadhafi forces, which had pushed slowly eastward toward the rebel-held town of Ajdabiya.
NATO warplanes bombed targets in and around Brega overnight, accidentally striking a pickup truck manned by rebel fighters. A Libyan doctor told al Jazeera TV that NATO planes also blew up a Gadhafi arms cache hidden among houses, causing civilian casualties.
A rebel spokesman Mustafa Ghariani indicated that the rebels considered the strikes accidental, and considered that the air campaign would ultimately shorten the war on the ground.
Libyan state TV claimed that civilians were hit by another NATO airstrike over the Gadhafi stronghold of Sabha, which houses an important government airbase. The TV showed doctors treating civilians it says were wounded in the airstrike. The claims were impossible to verify.
Pro-Gadhafi supporters also chanted slogans in favor of their embattled leader, denouncing NATO intervention. A pro-Gadhafi announcer on government TV insisted that Libyan media was "one million percent objective." while complaining that outside channels were "biased."
Eyewitnesses in the besieged western Libyan city of Misrata told Arab satellite channels that pro-Gadhafi forces continued to fire tank shells, mortar rounds and field artillery into the city. On Friday, an opposition leader in Benghazi, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, demanded that Gadhafi withdraw his forces from Misrata and other government-controlled cities before the opposition would accept a ceasefire.
Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim, however, denied that the rebels had agreed to a ceasefire, insisting that it was a ploy. "You are not offering peace if you are making impossible demands. It's a trick. We are the ones who offered peace, weeks ago, when we said we're going to talk and let's sit down and everything," he said.
Elsewhere, ongoing protests continued in the Yemeni capital Sana'a and other cities across the country Saturday. In the southern port city of Aden, army forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh fired into the air as thousands of protesters hurled stones at them and blocked a key roadway by setting tires on fire.
In Syria, where unrest shook at least five cities Friday, human rights activists warned that dozens of protesters had been arrested by state security forces. Syrian government TV denounced Friday’s violence, complaining it was the work of "armed gangs."