Gaddafi: ‘My people love me'

Libyan dictator denies protests were held in Tripoli, dismisses unrest in east as work of al-Qaida; EU imposes sanctions.

February 28, 2011 23:46
Man holds a picture of Gaddafi from a bank window.

man holds pic of Gaddafi_311. (photo credit: Chris Helgren / Reuters)


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Foreign powers accelerated efforts to help oust Muammar Gaddafi on Monday as rebels fought Libyan government forces trying to take back strategic coastal cities on either side of the capital. The besieged strongman continued to strike a defiant tone, telling Western correspondents he remained beloved by his countrymen and dismissing unrest in eastern Libya as the work of al-Qaida.

European Union governments approved sanctions against Libya on Monday, implementing a UN resolution sooner than expected. The UN Security Council on Saturday slapped sanctions on Gaddafi and other Libyan officials, imposed an arms embargo and froze Libyan assets.

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In an interview Monday with ABC, BBC and The Times of London, Gaddafi insisted he remains beloved by his people. “They all love me, all my people [are] with me,” he said. “They will die to protect me.”

Gaddafi denied there had been protests in Tripoli, and when asked about rebel control of the eastern city of Benghazi, said, “It is Qaida, it is Qaida, it is Qaida. It is not my people - they came from outside.” Gaddafi laughed at the suggestion he would leave Libya and said he felt betrayed by leaders who had urged him to quit. "Perhaps they want to occupy Libya,” he said.

Gaddafi called US President Barack Obama a "good man" but said he appeared to be misinformed about the situation in Libya, ABC News reported on its website. "The statements I have heard from him must have come from someone else," Gaddafi said. "America is not the international police of the world," he added. He also accused Western countries of abandoning his government in its fight against "terrorists.” "I'm surprised that we have an alliance with the West to fight al Qaeda, and now that we are fighting terrorists they have abandoned us," Gaddafi said.

Forces loyal to Gaddafi have been trying for days to push back a revolt that has won over large parts of the military, ended his control over eastern Libya and is fending off government assaults in western cities near Tripoli. It is difficult for reporters to move around western Libya and reports of fighting were hard to verify independently. But witnesses in both Misrata, a city of a half a million people 200 km (125 miles) to the east of Tripoli, and Zawiyah, a strategic refinery town 50 km (30 miles) to the west, said government forces were mounting or preparing attacks.

"An aircraft was shot down this morning while it was firing on the local radio station. Protesters captured its crew," a witness in Misrata, Mohamed, told Reuters by telephone. "Fighting to control the military air base started last night and is still going on. Gaddafi's forces control only a small part of the base. Protesters control a large part of this base where there is ammunition." A Libyan government source denied the report.

Sources also reported that several people were killed and others wounded on Monday after forces loyal to Gaddafi opened fire to disperse a protest in the capital.

According to the online edition of Quryna newspaper, a protest in the Tajoura neighbourhood gathered close to 10,000 protesters.

"When the protesters reached the Souk Juma, they were joined by armed men from the Gaddafi battalion who were dressed as civilians and opened fire on the unarmed youths ... Many among the youths were wounded and killed," it said, referring to a market in Tripoli.

Ibrahim, a resident of Zawiyah, said by telephone: "We are expecting attacks at any moment by brigades belonging to (Gaddafi's son) Khamis. They are on the outskirts of the town, about 5-7 km away. They are in large numbers." In the capital, Gaddafi's last stronghold, several people were killed and others wounded after forces loyal to Gaddafi opened fire to disperse a protest, the online edition of Quryna newspaper reported. The protest in the Tajoura neighbourhood gathered close to 10,000 protesters, the Libyan newspaper said, quoting its correspondent in the capital.

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"When the protesters reached the Souk Juma, they were joined by armed men from the Gaddafi battalion who were dressed as civilians and opened fire on the unarmed youths,” the newspaper reported. “Many among the youths were wounded and killed," it said, referring to a market in Tripoli.

"The armed men then took the corpses of the dead, the wounded and even the bystanders who were near the wounded," it added. The report could not be immediately verified. Foreign governments are increasing the pressure on Gaddafi to leave in the hope of ending fighting that has claimed at least 1,000 lives and restoring order to a country that accounts for 2 percent of the world's oil production.

The Pentagon said Monday it was repositioning US naval and air forces around Libya "to provide options and flexibility." The US Sixth Fleet operates out of Italy.

In The Hague, the International Criminal Court prosecutor said he would finish a preliminary examination of the violence within days, after which he could open a full inquiry -- a step mandated by the Council that could have taken months.

France proposed an emergency summit of EU leaders for Thursday, EU diplomats said.

The 68-year-old Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the death, but a spokesman struck a new, conciliatory tone on Monday. Mussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli that government forces had fired on civilians, but said this was because they were not trained to deal with civilian unrest.

He said the government was still in control of Zawiyah, even though reporters who were taken there at the weekend saw a town center under rebel control.

"What you saw was only the center," he said. "We allowed, we let these people with their guns to stand there. Zawiyah has not fallen. The government could have easily killed them and has not done so, because the government has not been bloody." In the eastern city of Benghazi, opponents of Gaddafi said they had formed a National Libyan Council to be the "face" of the revolution. They said they wanted no foreign intervention.

A senior government source said the government was sending a envoy to Benghazi on Monday night to deliver food, medicine and medical equipment.

Regional experts expect rebels eventually to take the capital and kill or capture Gaddafi, but add that he has the firepower to foment chaos or civil war -- a prospect he and his sons have warned of.

Opposition forces are largely in control of Libya's oil facilities, which are mostly located in the east.

Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, told Reuters Insider TV in Paris that industry reports suggested Libya's oil output had been halved as expatriate workers pulled out. Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimated in a note to clients that Libya was losing about 1.2 million barrels per day, or 75 percent of its pre-revolt output, and said the unrest could mean Libyan supplies were unavailable for months.

Industry sources said actual shipments were at a standstill.

Benchmark Brent oil futures were slightly lower at just under $112 a barrel.

Wealthy states have sent planes and ships to bring home expatriate workers but many more, from poorer countries, are stranded. Thousands of Egyptians have been streaming into Tunisia, complaining that Cairo has done nothing to help them.

The United Nations refugee agency said on Sunday nearly 100,000 people have fled violence in Libya in the past week in a growing humanitarian crisis.

Jordana Horn contributed reporting from New York.

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