Libyan Jets Fire on Protesters; Other Military Pilots Defect to Malta- UPDATE 2/23/2011

Posted on February 21, 2011

UPDATE 2/23/2011

Reports are coming in that a Lybian plane with a crew that refused to bomb its fellow citizens has crashed. No word yet on the fate of the crewmembers.

Two Libyan fighter jets and two civilian helicopters landed unexpectedly in Malta. The fighter pilots said they were seeking asylum.

Military aircraft fired live ammunition at crowds of anti-government protesters in Tripoli, Al-Jazeera television reported Monday.A Libyan man, Soula al-Balaazi, who said he was an opposition activist, told the network by telephone that Libyan air force warplanes had bombed “some locations in Tripoli.”

CNN has updated this story on air with the information that the pilots had been asked to bomb their own people and would not.  The bombs were on the aircraft and the guns were fully loaded with ammunition.

Meanwhile, although Hugo Chavez denies it, it is rumored that Muammar Gaddafi is headed to Venezuela.  Improbable but it is the second day this rumor has circulated prominently.

In Europe, the EU is discussing the evacuation of their citizens from the areas of conflict.  [aljazeera]  As for Libyan refugees:

Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, warned that crisis in Libya could trigger an “unimaginable” movement of population, because of the large number of non-Libyan nationals in the country.

“Those who spoke of hundreds of thousands” of people crossing into Europe “are not exaggerating,” Mr. Frattini said. “We have already seen what happened in Tunisia.” More than 3,000 Tunisians have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa, just off Sicily, in recent days, leading the Italian government to declare a state of humanitarian emergency.

Libya holds considerable leverage over the European Union because of the migration issue. It told the 27-nation bloc last week that it would reconsider its co-operation on illegal migration if it continued to encourage pro-democracy protests in the country, according to Hungary, which holds the union’s rotating presidency.

In recent years Europeans have sought close contacts with Tripoli to try to stem the flow of migrants. The collapse of an effective government could produce “chaos and anarchy,” said one foreign minister, speaking on ground rules of anonymity. [NY Times]

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