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

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 11:23 AM

SANAA, YEMEN - In a defiant speech on state television Tuesday, Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi rejected demands that he relinquish power, even as leaders of a popular revolt seized control in some areas and top officials resigned to protest attacks on civilians.

"I will not leave the country, and I will die as a martyr," Gaddafi, 68, said in the lengthy but disjointed address.

The Libyan leader, whose government has been weakened in recent days even as it has brutally cracked down on mass protests, also said "damn those who try to stir unrest." He blamed the six-day-old popular revolt on "mercenaries" and foreign influences.

With the United Nations convening an emergency meeting on Libya and the Arab League planning to weigh in as well, Gaddafi's vicious crackdown against demonstrators appeared to be fast eroding whatever support had existed for his government.

In Washington, Libya's ambassador to the United States announced he had decided to "resign from serving the current dictatorship." He called on the United States to "raise its voice very strongly" to help oust Gaddafi, who assumed power in a 1969 military coup.

"This regime is shaking, and this is the time to get rid of him," Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "The people are being kill[ed] in a brutal way. The people, they are armless, and the regime, they have all kind of weapons."

On Capitol Hill, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said the Libyan government's violence was "beyond despicable" and called for international sanctions, including the immediate cessation of operations in Libya by U.S. and other foreign oil companies.

Aujali said anti-government activists have taken control in the eastern part of Libya, an oil-rich North African nation where dissent and free expression have long been prohibited. The western part of the country, including the capital, Tripoli, remain in Gaddafi's hands, he said.

"We need the world to stand up by us," Aujali told GMA host George Stephanopolous. "We have to support the Libyan people. The world must take an action."

At the border with Egypt Tuesday, "people's committees" were acting in the place of security personnel. Thousands of Egyptians and Libyans fled the country.

Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, accused Gaddafi of killing his own people and urged the international community to act against the regime. "Either he has to get out or the Libyan people will kick him out," Dabbashi said in an interview with the television network al-Jazeera. "It is the end of the game."

In Triopli, residents reported that a heavy overnight rain had calmed the situation down. But the capital remained chaotic and volatile, with residents saying a new round of mass demonstrations was planned.

One resident said via e-mail that there were no ambulances available, in part because some of them had been shot up and set ablaze by Libyan mercenaries working to protect Gaddafi's regime. There were "reports of mercenaries riding in ambulances and shooting at people," said the resident, who asked that his name not be used because he feared for his security.

In the Tajoura, an enclave on the eastern end of the capital, there were reports of dead bodies and injured people left on the streets because air strikes had blocked access to the area, the resident said.

It is impossible to verify the scope or precise details of the events unfolding in Libya. Foreign journalists have been denied visas, and Internet access, phone service and other forms of communications have been largely cut.

But in interviews with Libyan residents, exiles and diplomats, as well as in videos posted online, a picture unfolded of a nation in the throes of the bloodiest revolution to emerge so far from the populist upheavals sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa.

Human Rights Watch said at least 223 people were killed Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The group did not report Monday's toll. Al-Jazeera television, quoting medical sources, said at least 61 people were killed in the protests in Tripoli overnight Sunday.

In a statement, Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Gaddafi government's "use of deadly force against its own people should mean the end of the regime itself. It's beyond despicable, and I hope we are witnessing its last hours in power."

While Gaddafi himself "is irredeemable," Kerry said, "his senior military commanders need to know that their acquiescence in atrocities could open them to future international war crimes charges." He called on foreign oil companies to stop operating in Libya until the violence against civilian ends and said the Obama administration should consider reimposing U.S. sanctions that were lifted during the George W. Bush administration.

Kerry also called on the U.N. Security Council to "condemn the violence and explore temporary sanctions, including an arms embargo and protection for Libyan civilian centers." He urged the Arab League to get involved and said the African Union should "vigorously investigate reports that African mercenaries are involved in the atrocities in Libya."

The U.N. Security Council was expected to meet Tuesday to discuss the crisis. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate end to the violence. "Such attacks against civilians, if confirmed, would constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law," his spokesman said.

In the Egyptian town of Masra Matrouh, two hours from the border, thousands of Egyptians and some Libyans and Westerners who had fled the unrest gathered Tuesday, searching for transportation to points elsewhere in Egypt.

A gaggle of men sat with packed bags, blankets and a television set at the OiLibya gas station. On the roads, vans packed with medical aid rushed west to the border in hopes of entering Libya, where hundreds are believed to have been killed and injuring in the military crackdown.

Vans heading east into Egypt from Libya were piled with suitcases and people fleeing the unrest.

CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman reported that he had crossed the border from Egypt into eastern Libya and found the opposition apparently in control of the region.

There were "no officials, no passport control, no customs" on the Libyan side, Wedeman wrote on his blog. Local security forces appeared to have defected to the opposition, he wrote, though there were still Gaddafi loyalists operating in eastern Libya as well.

On Monday, two Libyan fighter jets landed in Malta, after their pilots reportedly chose to defect rather than carry out orders to bomb Libya's second-largest city, Benghazi, the cradle of the six-day-old uprising.

Tribal and religious leaders condemned Gaddafi for the attacks against civilians; some urged all Muslims to rise against him. Influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi told al-Jazeera that he urged any Libyan soldier who has the opportunity to kill Gaddafi - and issued a religious decree to that effect.

"I am issuing a fatwa now to kill Gaddafi," the cleric said. "To any army soldier, to any man who can pull the trigger and kill this man to do so."

Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil resigned Monday, according to the country's Quryna newspaper. The country's ambassador to India, Ali al-Essawi, accused the Gaddafi government of deploying foreign mercenaries against the protesters. In total, at least seven senior Libyan diplomats stepped down Monday, including Libya's representative to the Arab League.

The defectors included Mohamed Abdul, 36, a cultural affairs official at the Libyan consulate in London, who walked off the job to join an anti-Gaddafi rally. He was greeted with rousing cheers, and four demonstrators hoisted him onto their shoulders, parading him around in glee.

"We can't work for this regime anymore," Abdul said. "The shocking video of people being killed on the streets is too much.

"The next step is to get our bosses and the ambassador out," he said, adding that nearly 12 other officials from the consulate had also defected.

In Tripoli on Monday, residents reported seeing heavily armed mercenaries hunting down demonstrators as buildings burned, looters ransacked police stations, and fighter jets and helicopter gunships rained ammunition from the skies.

Earlier, there were street celebrations in Benghazi, where anti-government demonstrators had reportedly taken control of the city from Libyan security forces. Even there, buildings smoldered, plumes of black smoke rising to the sky. Sirens from ambulances melded with the sound of gun battles throughout the day.

As the conflict escalated, the United States ordered all nonessential diplomats and embassy family members to leave the country. Western oil companies also removed nonessential workers.

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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