Defiant Gaddafi refuses to quit amid Libya protests

BBC

22 February 2011 Last updated at 13:23 ET

Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi has refused to stand down amid widespread anti-government protests which he said had tarnished the image of the country.

In his first major speech since unrest began last week, Col Gaddafi said the whole world looked up to Libya and that protests were “serving the devil”.

Reading from the country’s constitution, he said enemies of Libya would be executed.

Rights groups say nearly 300 have been killed in the violence so far.

A defiant and angry Col Gaddafi said that he had brought glory to Libya. As he had no official position from which to resign, he would remain the head of the revolution, he said.

He blamed the unrest on “cowards and traitors” who were seeking to portray Libya as a place of chaos and to “humiliate” Libyans. At other points he referred to the protesters as cockroaches or rats and mercenaries.

State TV had said Col Gaddafi was going to announce “major reforms” in his speech, but the only such reference was to some devolution of power to local authorities.

Civil war threat

The protesters had been given drink and drugs, he said, frequently shouting and banging his fist on the table as the address continued.

Analysis

image of Frank Gardner
Frank Gardner BBC security correspondent

Even by his own bizarre and eccentric standards, the latest speech by Col Gaddafi was breathtaking in its defiance of both the wider world and the reality now facing him.

Speaking from his favourite location, Tripoli’s bombed-out Bab Al-Azizia Barracks, he referred to the protesters variously as “cockroaches” and “traitors” who were “drug-fuelled, drunken and duped”.

At times, the Libyan leader seemed to lose control of his temper, shouting his words in Arabic. At others, he paused to adjust his matching khaki shawl and cap. His language, while undoubtedly aimed at shoring up what support he still has in the country, was one of quaint nationalist slogans from the 1960s and 70s.

To many of those opposing his rule, who use Twitter, Facebook and the internet, this was a speech from a bygone era from a man whose time they believe has long passed.

They represented less than 1% of Libya’s population he said, urging people to arrest them and hand them over to the security forces.

He called on “those who love Muammar Gaddafi” to come on to the streets in support of him, telling them not to be afraid of the “gangs”.

“Come out of your homes, attack them in their dens. Withdraw your children from the streets. They are drugging your children, they are making your children drunk and sending them to hell,” he said.

He urged young people to form committees “for the defence of the revolution and the defence of Gaddafi”. He said they would “cleanse Libya house by house”.

“If matters require, we will use force, according to international law and the Libyan constitution,” he said, and warned that the country could descend into civil war or be occupied by the US if protests continued.

Anyone who played games with the country’s unity would be executed, he said, referring to the Chinese authorities’ crushing of the student protests in Tiananmen Square among other historical events.

He also railed against western countries, in particular the United States and Britain, which he accused of trying to destabilise Libya.

Evacuations

It was unclear whether the speech, which lasted about an hour, was live or had been pre-recorded.

But it was apparently filmed at his Bab al-Azizia barracks in Tripoli, which still shows damage from a US bombing in 1986. The cameras occasionally cut away to an image of a giant fist crushing a US war plane.

Mid-East unrest: Libya

Map
  • Col Muammar Gaddafi has led since 1969
  • Population 6.5m; land area 1.77m sq km, much of it desert
  • Population with median age of 24.2, and a literacy rate of 88%
  • Gross national income per head: $12,020 (World Bank 2009)

The BBC’s Frank Gardner said Col Gaddafi appears to be completely divorced from reality, as if he has been living inside a bubble for the 40 years of his rule.

The Libyan leader said he had not authorised the army to use force, despite opposition statements that more than 500 people have been killed and more than 1,000 are missing – an indication that he was either not aware of the deaths or was deluded, says our correspondent.

The Libyan authorities have reacted fiercely to the outbreak of protests in the country, which have come amid anti-government unrest in many other countries in the region.

Foreign journalists work under tight restriction in Libya, and much of the information coming from the country is impossible to verify.

But witnesses say foreign mercenaries have been attacking civilians in the streets and that fighter planes have been shooting down protesters.

‘Deliriously happy’

The BBC’s Jon Leyne, in eastern Libya, said the region appears to be wholly under opposition control and people are deliriously happy.

Many of the army and police have defected and have been accepted by the opposition.

Local people said the government there had collapsed on Thursday after the first protests. They believe the only people now supporting Col Gaddafi are foreign fighters in the country.

Our correspondent says there is now little doubt that Col Gaddafi’s rule is finished, but the only question of how long it takes and how bloody the end will be.

Tens of thousands of foreigners are trying to leave the country and many oil companies are attempting to remove their expatriate staff.

There is a heavy police presence in the capital, but the second city, Benghazi – where there has been intense fighting – is now reported to be under opposition control.

Many Libyan diplomats, including the country’s ambassador to the US, have turned their backs on Col Gaddafi and are urging the international community to take action.

The UN Security Council and Arab League have both called emergency meetings over the crisis. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he is “outraged” by the violence

Human Rights Watch said at least 62 bodies had been taken to hospital morgues in Tripoli since Sunday, in addition to the 233 people it said had been killed outside the capital previously.

The violence has helped to push up oil prices to their highest levels since the global financial crisis of 2008.

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