First appearance by Libya's Gaddafi since unrest - denies leaving

AFP , Tuesday 22 Feb 2011

Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi televises a brief statement to quell rumours that he's left, amidst cities being overrun by protesters and many defectors

Image taken from video footage shows Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi speaking on state television, (Reuters).

Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, denied fleeing the country in a defiant television appearance amid protesters overrunning several cities and regime insiders quitting, shaking the foundations of his 42-year rule.

International outrage over Libyan security forces' brutal crackdown deepened and the UN Security Council prepared to meet in crisis session at the urging of Libyan diplomats who have resigned in protest at the Gaddafi regime.

The 68-year-old strongman's televised comments late Monday, designed to scotch "malicious rumours" he had fled to Venezuela, were the first since protests erupted last Tuesday in the east of the oil-rich North African nation.

"I am going to meet with the youth in Green Square" in downtown Tripoli, Gaddafi said in what state television billed as a live broadcast from outside the strongman's home.

"It's just to prove that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela and to deny television reports, those dogs," he said as he stood under an umbrella while about to step into a car. Rain lashed Tripoli on Monday evening.

Despite the brief 22-second appearance, Gaddafi's grip on the country appeared increasingly shaky as loyalists quit and fighter pilots defected after being ordered to fire on demonstrators.

The uprising has now spread to the capital, with gunfire rattling Tripoli, where protesters attacked police stations and the offices of the state broadcaster -- Gaddafi's mouthpiece -- and set government buildings ablaze.

Human rights groups say the Libyan government's crackdown has killed between 200 and 400. Residents of two districts in Tripoli said by telephone there had been "a massacre," with gunmen "firing indiscriminately" in Tajura district.

Another witness said helicopters had landed in Fashlum with what he called African mercenaries opening fire on anyone in the street, causing a large number of deaths.

"It's definitely the end of the regime. This has never happened in Libya before. We are praying that it ends quickly," one resident of east Tripoli told AFP in Cairo by phone.

A Latin American national living in Tripoli's upscale Gargaresh suburb reported seeing several burnt tyres and a torched truck and car during a brief outing on Monday. 

"We passed a barricade manned by men armed with Kalashnikovs," he said, adding "I was very scared, they had arrested a couple of Africans."

The man said terrified expatriates were hunkered down with their families awaiting evacuation from Libya and that the pictures of Gaddafi had been torn in Gargaresh, "which earlier was full of his supporters."

UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, said the Security Council would meet Tuesday at 1400 GMT in New York to discuss the crisis and reported a 40-minute telephone conversation with Gaddafi in which he "forcefully urged him to stop the violence against demonstrators."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the world was "watching the situation in Libya with alarm" and called for an end to "this unacceptable bloodshed."

Libyan diplomats at the United Nations joined calls for Gaddafi to quit, with deputy ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, saying the veteran leader had "declared war" on the Libyan people and was committing "genocide."

"I think it is the end of Colonel Gaddafi, it is a matter of days, whether he steps down or the Libyan people will get rid of him anyway," Dabbashi said in an interview with BBC World.

Two Libyan fighter pilots -- both colonels -- flew their single-seater Mirage F1 jets to Malta and said they had defected after being ordered to attack protesters in Benghazi, Maltese military sources told AFP.

Libya's justice minister, Mustapha Abdeljalil, has reportedly resigned in objection to "the excessive use of force" against demonstrators.

In Cairo, Libya's Arab League envoy said he, too, had stepped down to "join the revolution." Tripoli's ambassador to Delhi also quit, as did a diplomat in Beijing, Al-Jazeera television reported.

Benghazi, Libya's second city and an opposition stronghold in the east fell to anti-regime demonstrators after military units deserted, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) reported.

IFHR said protesters also controlled Sirte, Tobruk in the east, as well as Misrata, Khoms, Tarhounah, Zenten, Al-Zawiya and Zouara, closer to the capital.

Libyan state television said security forces were battling "dens of terrorists" in a sweep that had killed a number of people, without specifying where or who was being targeted.

It also reported Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam, as saying the military had launched strikes on arms depots outside urban areas.

But Libyan TV said he denied "reports that the armed forces had bombarded the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi," after Al-Jazeera reported air raids in the capital.

Gaddafi's son made a rambling appearance on television Monday to warn of looming civil war, saying that unless the protesters agreed to the regime's offers of reforms, "rivers of blood will run through Libya."

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