Gaddafi vows to fight until ‘last drop of blood'

Libyan strongman delivers hour-long rant goading supporters to hit streets; World Islamic body condemns bloodshed, China urges return to stability.

By OREN KESSLER, AP
February 22, 2011 18:20
Gaddafi addresses the nation, Tuesday

Gaddafi speech TV 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Muammar Gaddafi pledged to fight until his “last drop of blood” and ordered supporters to take to Libya’s streets against protesters in a furious, fistpounding speech Tuesday evening on Libyan state television.

The rambling, hour-long address followed two nights of bloodshed in the capital, Tripoli, as the dictator’s forces tried to crush the uprising that has fragmented his decades-long regime.

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Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi announced his defection and support for the “February 17 revolution,” Al- Jazeera reported on Tuesday night.

The channel aired amateur video footage that showed Abidi at his desk reading a statement that also called on the Libyan army to join the people and support their “legitimate demands.”

Shortly afterward, the Arab League suspended Libya’s participation in its council meetings, citing the government’s crackdown on protesters.

The league “condemns crimes against the current peaceful popular protests and demonstrations in several Libyan cities,” Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters in Cairo, Bloomberg News reported.

He said the security forces’ use of live rounds, heavy weapons and foreign mercenaries is a “grave breach of human rights.”

Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East

The Obama administration condemned the “appalling” violence used by Libyan authorities against protesters.

“This violence is completely unacceptable,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

US officials renewed demands for Gaddafi’s government to talk with opponents, and cast the political unrest there as part of a regional uprising against political and economic stagnation that must be addressed by the Arab governments.

The UN Security Council convened late on Tuesday in emergency session for “consultations” on the crisis.

Gaddafi’s call to his supporters portended a new round of mayhem in the capital of 2 million people. The night before, residents described a rampage by pro-regime militiamen, who shot on sight anyone found in the streets and opened fire from speeding vehicles at people watching from windows of their homes.

On Tuesday morning, bodies still lay strewn in some streets.

Gunshots in celebration were heard after Gaddafi’s speech, aired on state TV and on a screen to several hundred supporters in Tripoli’s central Green Square, witnesses said.

Swathed in brown robes and a turban, the country’s leader for nearly 42 years spoke from behind a podium in the entrance of his bombed-out Tripoli residence that was hit by US air strikes in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a symbol of defiance.

At times the camera panned back to show the outside of the building and its towering monument of a gold-colored fist crushing an American fighter jet.

But the view also gave a surreal image of Gaddafi, shouting and waving his arms wildly, alone in a broken-down lobby with no audience, surrounded by torn tiles dangling from the ceiling, shattered concrete pillars and bare plumbing pipes.

“Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world,” he proclaimed, pounding his fist on the podium.“I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents... I will die as a martyr at the end,” he said, vowing to fight “to my last drop of blood.”

Gaddafi depicted the protesters as misguided youths, who had been given drugs and money by a “small, sick group” to attack police and government buildings. He said the uprising was fomented by “bearded men” – a reference to Islamic fundamentalists – and Libyans living abroad. He called on supporters to take to the streets to attack protesters.

“You men and women who love Gaddafi... Get out of your homes and fill the streets,” he said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs.

“The police cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them,” he said, urging youth to form local committees across the country “for the defense of the revolution and the defense of Gaddafi.”

“Forward, forward, forward!” the 68-year-old barked at the speech’s conclusion, pumping both fists in the air as he stormed away from the podium.

He was kissed by about a dozen supporters, some in security force uniforms, then climbed into a golf cart-like vehicle and puttered away.

The turmoil in the capital escalates a week of protests and bloody clashes in Libya’s eastern cities that have shattered Gaddafi’s grip on the nation.

Many cities in the east appeared to be under the control of protesters after units of Gaddafi’s army defected. Protesters in the east claimed to hold several oil fields and facilities and said they were protecting them against damage or vandalism.

The regime has been hit by a string of defections by ambassadors abroad, including its UN delegation, and a few officials at home.

In response, Gaddafi’s security forces have unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region.

At least 62 people were killed in violence in Tripoli since Sunday, according to the New Yorkbased Human Rights Watch, but it cautioned that that figure came from only two hospitals.

That comes on top of at least 233 people killed across the country so far in the uprising, counted by the group from hospitals around the country.

Tripoli streets were largely empty on Tuesday, except for people venturing out for food, wary of militia attacks.

Reuters reported that the United States said it had been unable to move any of its nonessential diplomats and embassy family members out of Libya on Tuesday, but that it expected them to depart in coming days.

China also expressed concern about the unrest, urging Tripoli to investigate incidents against Chinese companies and citizens in the country. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters at a regular press briefing that Beijing hopes Libya can “restore social stability and normality,” Reuters reported.

The secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference weighed in, calling on Gaddafi’s regime to stop “targeting innocent Libyan people.”

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu strongly criticized the Libyan government’s use of excessive force against civilians in a statement released by the organization. He said the nation’s authorities should resolve demonstrators’ demands through “peaceful means and serious dialogue” rather than bloodshed.

The OIC is an umbrella organization representing 57 Muslim nations.

One of the heaviest battlegrounds in Libya has been Tripoli’s impoverished, densely populated district of Fashloum.

There, militiamen shot any “moving human being” with live ammunition, including ambulances, so wounded were left in the streets to die, one resident said.

He said that as he fled the neighborhood on Monday night, he ran across a group of militiamen, including foreign fighters.

“The Libyans [among them] warned me to leave and showed me bodies of the dead and told me: ‘We were given orders to shoot anybody who moves in the place,’” the resident said.

Another man, in his 50s, said residents of his neighborhood were piling up roadblocks of concrete, bricks and wood to try to slow militiamen. He said he had seen several streets with funeral tents mourning the dead. He described spending the night before barricaded in his home, blankets over the windows, as militiamen rampaged in the streets until dawn.

Buses unloaded militia fighters – Libyans and foreigners – in several neighborhoods. Others sped in vehicles with guns mounted on the top, opening fire, including at people watching from windows, he said.

“I know of two different families, one family had a four-yearold who was shot and killed on a balcony in the eastern part of the city, and another lady on the balcony was shot in the head,” he said.

He, like other residents contacted by The Associated Press, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Militias – which many witnesses say include fighters who appear to be from sub-Saharan Africa – have taken the forefront in the crackdown in Tripoli, in part because Gaddafi has traditionally kept his military and other armed forces weakened to prevent any challenge.

The week of upheaval in Libya has weakened – if not broken for now – the control of Gaddafi’s regime in parts of the east.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Tuesday that runways at Benghazi airport have been destroyed and passenger planes cannot land there. He told Egyptians in Libya to, if possible, remain in their houses and secure themselves with enough food and water and to stay off the streets.

“The Benghazi airport runways have been destroyed. It is not possible for EgyptAir flights or any other flights to land in that airport,” Aboul Gheit told reporters.

Up to 1.5 million Egyptians live in Libya. Egypt on Tuesday was still awaiting permission from Libyan air traffic authorities to land its planes at Tripoli airport.

Protesters claim to control a string of cities across just under half of Libya’s 1,600-kilometerlong Mediterranean coast, from the Egyptian border in the east to the city of Ajdabiya, an important site in the oil fields of central Libya, said Tawfiq al-Shahbi, a protest organizer in the eastern city of Tobruk. He said he had visited the crossing station into Egypt and that border guards had fled.

In Tobruk and Benghazi, protesters were raising the pre- Gaddafi flag of Libya’s monarchy on public buildings, he and other protesters said.

Protesters and local tribesmen were protecting several oil fields and facilities around Ajdabiya, said Ahmed al-Zawi, a resident there. They had also organized watch groups to guard streets and entrances to the city, he said.

Residents are also guarding one of Libya’s main oil export ports, Zuweita, and the pipelines feeding into it, he said. The pipelines are off and several tankers in the port left empty, said Zawi, who said he visited Zuweita on Tuesday morning.

In Benghazi, protesters over the weekend overran police stations and security headquarters, taking control of the streets with the help of army units that broke away and sided with them.

Benghazi residents, however, remained in fear of a regime backlash. One doctor in the city said Tuesday many spent the night outside their homes, hearing rumors that air strikes and artillery assaults were imminent.

“We know that although we are in control of the city, Gaddafi loyalists are still here hiding and they can do anything anytime,” he said.

Gaddafi appeared briefly on TV early on Tuesday to dispel rumors that he had fled. Sitting in a car in front of what appeared to be his residence and holding an umbrella out of the passenger side door, he told an interviewer that he had wanted to go to the capital’s Green Square to talk to his supporters gathered there, but the rain stopped him.

“I am here to show that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela.

Don’t believe those misleading dog stations,” Gaddafi said, referring to the media reports that he had left the country for the South American socialist state run by his friend Hugo Chavez. The video clip and comments lasted less than a minute.

But Tuesday evening’s speech lasted well over a half hour. During it, Gaddafi recounting his days as a young revolutionary leader who “liberated” Libya – a reference to the 1969 military coup that brought him to power – and his defiance against US air strikes.

He insisted that since he has no official title, he cannot resign – Gaddafi is referred to as the “brother leader,” but is not president.

He said he had not ordered police to use any force used against protesters – that his supporters had come out voluntarily to defend him.

“I haven’t ordered a single bullet fired,” he said, warning that if he does, “everything will burn.”

Gaddafi said that if protests didn’t end, he would stage a “holy march” with millions of supporters to cleanse Libya. He demanded that protesters in Benghazi hand over weapons taken from captured police stations and military bases, warning of separatism and civil war.

“No one allows his country to be a joke or lets a mad man separate a part of it,” he declared.


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