President Obama said that NATO had made significant progress in its campaign and that it was “just a matter of time” before Gaddafi was forced from power.
But Gaddafi phoned Libyan state television late in the afternoon to call his supporters onto the streets “in their millions” to show their defiance. “We will not kneel, we will not surrender,” he said. “We have only one choice, until the end: Victory or death, it doesn’t matter.”
After Gaddafi’s 10-minute address, cars sped past the Rixos Hotel — where foreign journalists are staying — honking their horns and waving the green flags of the Libyan government. A few hundred people gathered outside Gaddafi’s sprawling Bab al-Aziziyah headquarters complex, and a smaller crowd also assembled outside the Rixos, shouting slogans and firing Kalashnikov rifles into the air.
“We are stronger than your missiles, stronger than your planes, and the voice of the Libyan people is louder than explosions,” Gaddafi said, adding that he was ready to send 250,000 to 500,000 armed Libyans to cleanse the country of the rebels, whom he called “armed gangs” and “bastards.”
Tuesday has been reported to be Gaddafi’s 69th birthday, but neither government nor NATO officials seemed aware of the significance of the date.
NATO said it was hitting the center of Gaddafi’s military command-and-control facilities and warned that the bombing campaign would intensify.
The Libyan government said NATO had struck “military and semi-military” sites, including centers for the Popular Guard and the Revolutionary Guard, two militias responsible for internal security. Officials also showed journalists one building inside Bab al-Aziziyah that had been leveled; reporters spotted a body in the rubble.
Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said NATO leaders were “losing their heads” and complained that not a single representative from Britain, France or the United States has asked to visit Libya and talk to the government since the crisis began, despite the government’s repeated assertion that it was ready for dialogue, peace and elections.
“No one has ever talked to us from the countries that are bombing us,” he said. “Isn’t that weird?”
Analysts said that NATO appeared to be targeting the country’s internal security apparatus in an effort to encourage Gaddafi’s opponents to rise up in Tripoli. Although open dissent has been growing and some demonstrations have taken place in the capital in the past two weeks, a widespread uprising there still seems unlikely anytime soon.