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Gaddafi vows to 'die as a martyr,' refuses to relinquish power

Motivated by recent shows of political strength by neighbors in Egypt, demonstrators in the Middle East and North Africa are taking to the streets of many cities to rally for change.

There were reports that Gaddafi's security forces had retreated to a few strategic buildings, including the presidential palace. By Monday night, however, fearful residents in Tripoli reported seeing Gaddafi's loyalists roaming their neighborhoods in search of protesters as the aerial assaults continued.

"Groups of Land Cruisers with masked men wearing military uniforms with heavy guns just passed in front of my street heading to downtown," the resident of Tripoli messaged via Skype. "They are the regime's guards. God help us tonight. . . . Helicopters are shooting down on people on the ground in Tripoli."

Gaddafi has governed Libya largely through a constellation of revolutionary committees. In Libya, tribal and clan identities are considered more significant than the national identity, and Gaddafi has skillfully played the tribes against one another to keep control.

The military and security forces are also shaped along tribal lines, unlike the tightly knit militaries of Egypt and Tunisia. In addition, Gaddafi has relied heavily on foreign fighters to fill out the ranks of his security forces.

The violence Monday erupted after a late-night speech by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the leader's son and heir apparent. In a televised address, he warned that tribal and clan loyalties would plunge the country into civil war if his father was ousted. While he offered some promises of reforms, the younger Gaddafi mainly threatened Libyans that anarchy would erase the country's oil wealth and usher in economic turmoil. He also vowed that his father and family would fight to the "last bullet."

On Monday, the younger Gaddafi publicly denied that fighter jets had attacked civilians, saying that they had been deployed to bomb munitions depots around the capital. Protesters disputed that assertion.

raghavans@washpost.com fadell@washpost.com

Fadel reported from Masra Matrouh, Egypt. Correspondents Anthony Faiola in London and Janine Zacharia in Manama, Bahrain, special correspondents Sherine Bayoumi in Cairo and Karla Adam in London and staff writers William Branigin and Mary Beth Sheridan in Washington contributed to this report.


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