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Gadaffi defiant, vows never to leave Libya

Source: PTI
Last updated on: February 23, 2011 00:12 IST
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Libya's defiant leader Muammer Gaddafi vowed to fight his detractors and die a martyr, as outrage grew over the bloody suppression of anti-government protests in his country.

Appearing on state television for the second time in two days, a fiery Gaddafi called himself a bedouin warrior who had brought glory to Libya, and rejected all calls for stepping down.

"Damn those who try to stir unrest in Arab countries," said Gaddafi, as international voices grew in condemnation over the bloodshed in Libya. "I am a bedouin warrior who brought glory to Libya and will die a martyr," he said.

Wearing brown robes and a turban, the 65-year-old Libyan leader asked his supporters to take back the streets of the country from protesters, as reports said that some of the cities had fallen to the opposition. "If you love Muammar Gaddafi, go out and secure Libya's streets," he shouted.

Gaddafi's appearance was the second since reports said yesterday that he may have left the country for Venezuela. He earlier made a fleeting appearance to lay to rest speculation of his departure, and called the foreign TV channels who were relaying such reports as "dogs". He appeared again on TV this evening, making a furious speech, to send out the message that he did not intend to step down.

"Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world... I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents ... I will die as a martyr at the end," he said pounding his fists. The statement came as latest reports put the figure of dead in the continued violence in Libya at 300. UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, warned that the widespread attacks against civilians "amount to crimes against humanity", and called for an international investigation in possible human rights violations.

TV channel Al Jazeera said quoting witnesses that fighter jets had bombed parts of the city last night. The UN Security Council is set to meet to discuss the crisis in Libya, a day after UN chief Ban-Ki-moon telephoned Gaddafi and asked him to put an end to the violence.

"I urged him that the human rights and freedom of assembly and freedom of speech must be fully protected," Ban said.

Al Jazeera said quoting witnesses that fighter jets had bombed parts of the city last night. The UN Security Council is set to meet to discuss the crisis in Libya, a day after UN chief Ban-Ki-moon telephoned Gaddafi and asked him to put an end to the violence.

In an address, apparently given from a building bombed by US war planes in 1986, Gaddafi sought to blame the widespread unrest in Libya on youths, calling them "rats and mercenaries" who wanted to turn Libya into an Islamic state.

"From tonight to tomorrow, all the young men should form local committees for popular security," he said, telling them to wear a green armband to identify themselves. The Libyan people and the popular revolution will control Libya. He warned that instability in Libya will give Al Qaeda a base" though he also offered a new constitution starting that would come with dialogue.

Earlier, Gaddafi had appeared for 22 seconds on state television shortly after 0200 am local time, to say that he was in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. The statement of Gaddafi, who is battling an Egypt-like crisis, came amid fresh clashes between security forces and protesters and a series of defections from the government in protest of the violent crackdown. Libyan Justice Minister Mustapha Abdul Jalil had resigned yesterday in protest against the "excessive use of violence" against demonstrators and joined the agitation.

Libya's ambassador to Bangladesh too quit yesterday, as also the envoy to India. Witnesses in Tripoli told Al Jazeera that helicopter gunships were also used to fire on the streets in order to scare demonstrators away. Several witnesses said that "mercenaries" were firing on civilians in the city.

Human Rights Watch said at least 62 people had died in the last two days. Residents of the Tajura neighbourhood, east of Tripoli, said that bodies were still lying on the streets. State media, meanwhile, was mobilised to forcefully deny the reports of "massacres" in several cities, but international outrage mounted over the violence.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent out a tough message to the Libyan leader, warning against the use of lethal force on peaceful demonstrators. "The government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of the people, including the right to free expression and assembly. Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed," Clinton said in a statement. The anti-government protests reached the capital Tripoli yesterday for the first time after days of violent unrest in the eastern city of Benghazi, but Gaddafi's son pledged to fight the revolt to the "last man standing", warning protesters that Libya was neither Tunisia nor Egypt. Amid escalating violence, several European countries were sending planes to evacuate their citizens from Libya.

Italy, Greece, and the Netherlands were sending transport planes to Libya to get their citizens out. Austria and Portugal had already done so, BBC said, adding UK nationals had been told to take commercial flights fromTripoli.

International oil firms, many of them engaged in major energy projects in Libya, were also evacuating expatriate staff, it said. Tripoli's airport was packed with passengers trying to leave the country, while Egyptians in Libya crowded the country's border with Egypt to flee the unrest.

Libya's newly set up high-power General Committee for Defence said its forces would cleanse the country of anti-government elements. Close on the heels of Libya's envoys in Delhi and Dhaka quitting to protest the use of force against the demonstrators, the country's top diplomat in the US said he could no longer support Gaddafi. Libya's envoy to the Arab League, Abdel Moneim al-Honi, also announced that he was joining the revolution.

The country's diplomats at the United Nations called for international intervention to stop the government's violent action against demonstrations in their homeland. Security forces yesterday used live ammunition on protesters in Tripoli. Armed security personnel patrolled the streets, with war planes flying over the city.

Mobile phone networks were down and even landlines were affected. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "outraged" by reports that Libyan forces had fired on protesters from war planes and helicopters, and demanded that the civilian population be protected under any circumstances.

He urged all parties to exercise restraint and called on the authorities to engage in broad-based dialogue to address "legitimate concerns of the population" in a 40-minute telephone conversation with Gaddafi. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard too condemned the violence in the oil-rich state, which came after the overthrow of regimes in Egypt and Tunisia and street violence and protests in the tiny Gulf state of Bahrain. "... we condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of the military against peaceful protesters," she said.

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