Libya’s popular uprising has spread across the country with key cities in the east falling to protesters, leaving its president of 42 years, Muammar Qaddafi isolated in his capital, Tripoli.

Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and the scene of Libya’s first protests is now widely reported to have fallen along with a number of other towns and cities along the coast in the eastern part of the country.

Qatar’s news agency Al-Jazeera reports that there are signs of security forces in the city of Tobruk, which lies 140 kilometres from the Egyptian border.

Major-General Suleiman Mahmoud, the commander of the armed forces in Tobruk, told Al-Jazeera that he and his troops had now switched loyalties to the protesters. His defection follow the resignation of several overseas diplomatic staff and the Libyan interior minister (MEED 23:2:11).

However, the government also appears to have lost ground in the west of the country. Protesters in the city of Misurata claimed on 23 February to have wrested control from the government control, with army officers pledging their support.

According to Kuwait’s Agility, all of Libya’s ports are currently closed and air freight into the country is suspended.

“Closures to the Benghazi, Misurata and Tripoli ports mean Agility is diverting all cargo to Alexandria port, Egypt. Many shipping lines are now also diverting to Algeciras Port, Spain and Port of Gioia Tauro (Calabria), Italy,” the company said in an emailed statement.