DUBAI // More than 100 people gathered at the Libyan Consulate in Dubai yesterday calling for Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan president, to step down and for the UAE government to officially condemn the violence in the north African country.
Protesters entered the consulate grounds, destroying a portrait of the Libyan leader and replacing the flag on the building's roof with the country's former standard. Slogans such as "The blood of our martyrs will not go wasted" and "Tell Muammar and his sons: Libya has men", were chanted repeatedly.
The crowd said they would stay outside the consulate until the Libyan regime fell, but agreed to disband peacefully at 3pm after police told them they could submit an application for a time and venue at which to continue their demonstration.
Since protests against government corruption began in Libya last Thursday, more than 300 people have reportedly been killed by pro-Qaddafi forces.
"We are here to support the people of Libya," said Besher al Fitouri, 40, a student at the Dubai School of Government.
A statement issued by the protesters read: "What is being carried out in Libya today is a massacre. It is a crime against humanity where a full military arsenal is being used against unarmed civilian people."
The protest began outside the consulate, which is located in the diplomatic area near Dubai Creek, at 10.45am yesterday. On duty policemen moved the protesters into the consulate grounds, where they were able to enter the deserted building and remove a large framed photograph of Colonel Qaddafi, which they took outside and smashed to the ground.
Plain-clothed police officers and Dubai Police told the crowd they understood they were upset about their home country, but urged them to keep calm and remain peaceful. By 2pm, the crowd numbered more than 100 men and women of all ages.
The protest seemed to be passing peacefully until a woman arrived at the consulate and began shouting pro-Qaddafi slogans. She was set upon by two other female protesters before police broke up the fight and removed any Qaddafi supporters from the consulate. The protesters, who had been peaceful up until this incident, began shouting: "The traitor needs to get out."
As tensions rose, more riot police arrived at the consulate and the gates to the compound were locked, sealing in the protesters and preventing more from joining in.
The crowd took to the roof of the consulate and tore down the Libyan flag. The green Libyan flag was introduced by Col Qaddafi when he took power 42 years ago. "This flag is the flag of Qaddafi. It does not represent us. It must go down," said Ilham Bashir, a 23-year-old university student.
In its place, they hoisted the old Libyan flag: a green, black and red standard featuring the crescent moon and star.
The chanting stopped twice as protesters lined up together to offer prayers for Libya.
Emotions ran high once the morning round of prayers were over: one man collapsed sobbing, while another was seen sitting on the pavement crying.
Several protesters said they had family members and friends who had been killed in the Libya uprising.
Emirates Airline has cancelled flights to Tripoli scheduled for tomorrow and Friday.
"Passengers will not be accepted for flights into Tripoli from any airport until further notice," the airline's website said. "Emirates will continue to monitor the situation in Tripoli."
Etihad Airways does not run services to Libya.
Emirates flights to Carthage Airport in Tunis will now go direct, rather than via Libya as they did previously.
Under the amended schedule, today's flight EK8745 will leave Dubai at 9.05am, arriving in Tunis at 12.55pm local time. The return flight, EK8746, will depart from Tunis at 2.30pm local time, arriving back in Dubai at 11.05pm.
Customers who bought tickets to and from Bahrain or Tripoli as of February 20 for travel up to March 15 will be able to rebook at no cost, although scheduled flights to Bahrain would still continue.
Flights to Bahrain would also run as scheduled on Etihad Airways and flydubai.
Emirates said flights to other countries in the Middle East "are operating on schedule".
The carrier has recently cut back its Cairo schedule from 13 flights a week to seven.
* Nadeem Hanif