Muammar Gaddafi delivered another fiery, rambling address on Wednesday, warning
supporters that foreign intervention in Libya would bring “another Vietnam”
while forces loyal to the longtime leader waged a destructive but ultimately
failed attempt to retake key territory in the east.
In a damning
challenge to Gaddafi’s diminished credibility, the International Criminal Court
in The Hague announced its prosecutor would examine the violence in the country
after being referred the case by the UN Security Council.
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“We will enter
a bloody war and thousands and thousands of Libyans will die if the United
States enters or NATO enters,” Gaddafi told supporters at a live televised
gathering from the capital Tripoli.
“We are ready to hand out weapons to
a million, or two million or three million, and another Vietnam will begin. It
doesn’t matter to us. We no longer care about anything,” he said.
compared the rebels’ attacks to “Israeli tanks in the streets of Gaza, and to
what is happening in Afghanistan.”
Forces loyal to Gaddafi briefly
captured Brega, an oil export terminal, before being driven back by rebels who
have held the town 800 km. east of Tripoli for about a week, rebel officers
said, adding they were ready to move westwards against Gaddafi’s forces if he
refused to quit. Estimates of the death toll during the day ranged between five
Washington says it will keep pressure on Gaddafi to quit, and is
moving ships and planes closer to Libya in what is widely seen as a symbolic
show of force.
On Wednesday, two American amphibious assault ships, the
USS Kearsarge and the USS Ponce, passed through the Suez Canal into the
The White House said the ships were being redeployed in
preparation for possible humanitarian efforts but stressed it “was not taking
any options off the table.”
“Our job is to give the president the
broadest possible decision space,” US Defense Secretary Robert Gates
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told lawmakers, “One of our
biggest concerns is Libya descending into chaos and becoming a giant
On Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman warned the West
not to use military force against Gaddafi, saying such action could turn the
country into a Western military base, AFP reported.
Army Radio reported
on Wednesday that Gaddafi’s children have called on their father to give up
leadership and leave the country to receive political asylum from the Nicaraguan
president, Daniel Ortega. The option has received the consent of both the
Nicaraguan and US governments, Army Radio reported, without attributing the
source of the information.
Nicaragua was one of a handful of countries,
including Cuba and Venezuela, that opposed suspending Libya from the UN Human
Rights Council on Tuesday.
In recent days the international community
raised the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, but on
Wednesday, Gates said such a move would first require an air assault to
Libyan aerial defenses.
“Let’s just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone
begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses, and then you can fly
planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down,” he
In the Netherlands, the International Criminal Court prosecutor
said in a statement, “Following a preliminary examination of available
information, the prosecutor has reached the conclusion that an investigation is
On Thursday, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will present an
overview of alleged war crimes committed in Libya since February 15 and of
“preliminary information as to the entities and persons who could be prosecuted
and put them on notice to avoid future crimes.”
Once he has gathered
sufficient evidence, the next step would be for the prosecutor to present his
case to International Criminal Court judges, who will need to decide whether to
issue arrest warrants.
Libyan state television reported on Wednesday that
Gaddafi had replaced the interior and justice ministers, both of whom have
defected to support the uprising.
Gaddafi, who once said ballot box
democracy was for donkeys, told the gathering in Tripoli the world did not
understand he had given power to the people long ago.
“We put our fingers
in the eyes of those who doubt that Libya is ruled by anyone other than its
people,” he said, referring to his system of “direct democracy,” launched at a
meeting attended by visiting Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1977.
also called for the United Nations and NATO to probe what had happened in Libya,
and said he saw a conspiracy to colonize the country and seize its oil. He said
no more than 150 people had been killed in the uprising, which he described as
the work of “terrorists.”
The assault on Brega appeared to be the most
significant military operation by Gaddafi since the uprising erupted in
mid-February and set off a confrontation that Washington says could descend into
a long civil war unless Gaddafi steps down.
Witnesses said the attack was
backed by heavy weapons and air strikes.
A Libyan human rights group put
the death toll since the start of the revolt at at least 6,000
“Victims in the whole country were 6,000,” Ali Zeidan told
reporters in Paris, AFP reported, adding that the figure included 3,000 in
Tripoli, 2,000 in the rebel-held second city Benghazi and 1,000 in other
“This is what people told us, but it can be more,” he
Diplomats have said that between 1,000 and 2,000 people have been
killed in the rebellion, although precise figures are hard to come by because of
the situation on the ground.
Zeidan said there were thousands of
mercenaries deployed in Libya, including 3,000 in Tripoli and 3,000 just outside
it, allegedly being commanded by officers from Libya’s southern neighbor
In Benghazi, a rebel National Libyan Council called for UN-backed
air strikes on African mercenaries it said Gaddafi was using against his own
The council said a former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel, Jalil,
would be chairman of the panel, which will have 30 members and be based in
Benghazi before moving later to Tripoli.
Across Libya, tribal leaders,
officials, military officers and army units have defected to the rebel cause and
say they are becoming more organized, however, Tripoli remains a Gaddafi
At Ras Jdir on the Tunisia border, thousands of Bangladeshi
migrant workers, desperate to leave Libya, pressed up against the gates of the
frontier crossing, angry at their government for sending no help.
70,000 people have passed through the Ras Jdir border post in the past two
weeks, and many more of the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in Libya
are expected to follow.
France and Britain said on Wednesday they would
evacuate thousands of Egyptian workers stranded on Tunisia’s border after
fleeing violence in Libya.
The two nations said they were responding to a
call from the UN refugee agency UNHCR and others for assistance to prevent a
humanitarian crisis developing as Tunisia struggles to cope with the sudden
inflow of people.