NALUT: Pressure mounted Monday on Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi after his opponents overran towns in his traditional western stronghold and world leaders called for him to end his iron-fisted rule.
As the UN Human Rights Council met in Geneva over a deadly crackdown by Kadhafi’s forces on anti-regime protests and the ensuing humanitarian crisis, there were signs the strongman’s grip on power was slipping even further.
"The council should not relax its vigilance over Libya as the threat of violent reprisals against civilians still looms," the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, told ministers and envoys at the gathering.
The unrest that erupted in Libya nearly two weeks ago has killed at least 1,000 people and set off a "humanitarian emergency", the UN refugee agency UNHCR said, as almost 100,000 migrant workers fled the North African state.
Washington said it was ready to assist Kadhafi’s opponents, who on Sunday set up a transitional "national council" in several eastern and western cities seized from the regime and called on the army to help them take Tripoli.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the calls of world leaders, including President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, for him to quit.
"We are just at the beginning of what will follow Kadhafi," she said.
"First we have to see the end of his regime and with no further bloodshed," she said, noting Washington was eager for his ouster "as soon as possible."
"We want him to leave."
At the weekend, the UN Security Council imposed a travel and assets ban on Kadhafi’s regime and ordered a probe into possible crimes against humanity.
London said it had frozen Kadhafi family assets in Britain, amid newspaper reports these amount to about 20 billion pounds (32 billion dollars, 23 billion euros) in liquid assets, mostly in London.
Australia is investigating claims Kadhafi’s family has stashed millions of dollars in assets down under, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Monday.
Canberra has launched a forensic probe to track down any assets the crumbling regime may have secretly built up in Australia.
A community organizer, Abdel Hafiz Ghoqa, told reporters in Benghazi on Sunday that a transitional "national council" had been set up in cities seized from the regime.
"The creation of a national council has been announced in all freed cities of Libya," he said.
The council is the "face of Libya in the transitional period," he said, adding consultations were under way on the body’s composition and duties.
"The people of Libya will liberate their cities," Ghoqa said. "We are counting on the army to liberate Tripoli."
On Saturday, former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who quit Kadhafi’s regime on February 21, said a transitional government would lead Libya for three months, before an election.
In neighboring Egypt, visiting US senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman urged Washington to recognize a transitional government in Libya and provide it with weapons and humanitarian assistance to oust Kadhafi.
On Sunday, the strongman dismissed the UN sanctions as invalid and said calm had returned to Libya as the territories held by the opposition were "surrounded."
In his telephone statement to Serbian television, he said: "Libya is completely quiet. There is nothing unusual. There is no unrest."
Of the territory held by the opposition, Kadhafi said: "There is a small group (of opponents) that is surrounded, but we will sort that out."
A video posted on the YouTube website meanwhile showed one of Kadhafi’s sons, Seif Al-Islam, armed with an automatic rifle and urging on supporters of his father.
"People say that the police fled, the police joined the agitators. Today we are showing them that the police are with Libya," the son said in the undated video.
But Kadhafi’s crumbling regime now controls only some western areas around the capital and a few long-time bastions in the arid south, reporters and witnesses say.
An AFP reporter arriving in Nalut, a town of 66,000 people, 235 kilometers (145 miles) west of Tripoli, found Kadhafi loyalists had entirely disappeared.
"The city has been liberated since February 19. It has been run by a revolutionary committee named by the town’s communities," Shaban Abu Sitta, a local lawyer and member of a revolutionary committee, told AFP.
"The towns of Rhibat, Kabaw, Jado, Rogban, Zentan, Yefren, Kekla, Gherien and Hawamed have also been free for days. In all these towns, Kadhafi’s forces have gone and a revolutionary committee put in place," he said.
Regime opponents appeared to control the city of Az-Zawiyah, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of the capital, where thousands took to the streets to denounce the teetering leader in front of invited journalists.
The journalists were welcomed by thousands of demonstrators, shouting "Down with the regime, we want freedom." Some were armed and fired into the air.
No Libyan security services were visible, but Az-Zawiyah saw clashes between regime supporters and opponents last Thursday, in which a human rights group said more than 35 people were killed.
As the crisis drove oil prices up to $113.98 per barrel in Asian trading on Monday, the UN refugee agency said a "humanitarian emergency" was underway as thousands of foreigners sought to flee Libya by land, sea and air.
Nearly 100,000 people, most of them Egyptian and Tunisian workers, have already left Libya, while China says it has evacuated nearly 29,000 of its citizens from the strife-torn country.
Tripoli airport officials said huge crowds were still waiting to leave the country.