Violence in Lybia

Besieged leader threatens ‘another Vietnam’ if US, NATO forces enter country; US moves warships through Suez Canal as warning.

United Nations 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
United Nations 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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.
Gaddafi 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 and 14.
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 Mediterranean.
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 said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told lawmakers, “One of our biggest concerns is Libya descending into chaos and becoming a giant Somalia.”
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 cripple 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 said.
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 warranted.”
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.
Gaddafi 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 people.
“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 cities.
“This is what people told us, but it can be more,” he said.
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 Chad.
In Benghazi, a rebel National Libyan Council called for UN-backed air strikes on African mercenaries it said Gaddafi was using against his own people.
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 stronghold.
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.
About 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.