Gaddafi rallies supporters in Libya as Sarkozy calls for ouster

By Alaa Shahine, Zainab Fattah and Benjamin Harvey
(c) 2011 Bloomberg News
Friday, February 25, 2011; 1:40 PM

Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Muammar Qaddafi rallied supporters in his capital, Tripoli, telling them to defend their country from opposition forces that have consolidated control of the eastern part of the Libya.

"We will fight and defeat" any foreign intervention and "defend the oil", Qaddafi told crowds gathered in Tripoli's Green Square, who carried posters and banners supporting him.

"When needed, all the weapons stores will be opened so that all the Libyan people and the Libyan tribes are armed," he said. "Libya will become a fire."

The prospect of civil war in North Africa's biggest oil producer has pushed crude prices to a 2 1/2-year high, and led to calls for intervention to stop the worst violence yet seen in two months of spreading unrest across the Middle East and North Africa. France and the U.K. will submit a plan for an arms embargo and other sanctions against Libya at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council today.

"France's position is clear, Mr. Qaddafi must go," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at a news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara today. Sarkozy, the first leader of a major power to call openly for Qaddafi's resignation, said intervention wasn't a good option.

Tripoli has been gripped by violence today. About 1 million of Libya's 6.4 million inhabitants live in Tripoli, according to a 2006 census.

Several people were killed in the capital when security forces loyal to Qaddafi fired on protesters after worship, Al Arabiya television said, citing at least three witnesses. The U.K. government said the route to Tripoli airport is no longer safe. U.S. Senators John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, called on the Obama administration to back the rebels with weapons.

In his address, Qaddafi vowed to fight his opponents, saying the rebellion is an outside attempt to take over the country, a former Italian colony that gained independence in 1951.

"We will defeat them as we defeated Italy. This is the power, the undefeated power. Life is worthless without dignity," Qaddafi said.

Oil headed for its biggest weekly gain in two years on concern the turmoil may spread to other parts of the region. Crude for April delivery gained as much as $1.92 to $99.20 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was at $96.60 a barrel at 1:42 p.m. London time.

Libya normally pumps 1.6 million barrels of oil a day, selling most of it to Europe, according to Bloomberg estimates. That's about 1.8 percent of world supply.

With the eastern coastline staying under the control of Qaddafi opponents, the issue now is whether and how he will be ousted.

"There isn't a clear endgame here," Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said in a telephone interview. "There isn't a rebel army marching on Tripoli attempting to take it over from Qaddafi. The military in Libya is different than the military in Tunisia and Egypt. It's divided."

Across the Arab world today, protesters streamed into squares to demand more rights and government transparency two weeks after the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrations took place in Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia, the country that sparked the change sweeping the region last month when President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted.

Foreign leaders are trying to get their citizens out of Libya as Qaddafi digs in. The security situation at Tripoli airport was "deteriorating" and the journey there was "becoming more precarious," the U.K. Foreign Office said in a statement.

A U.S.-chartered ship left Tripoli for Malta today with more than 300 passengers, more than half of them Americans, the State Department said. The departure had been delayed by storms.

The U.K. reported evacuating 350 British nationals and citizens of 25 other countries yesterday aboard planes and a British frigate. Turkey has sent passenger ferries and a military ship, and China chartered four passenger ships from Greece and Malta and 100 buses from Egypt to move 4,600 of an estimated 30,000 nationals in Libya.

"Britain, through the United Nations, is pressing for asset seizures, for travel bans, for sanctions, for all of those things we can do to hold those people to account, including investigating for potential crimes against humanity," Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters in London today.

French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, speaking in an interview on France Info radio, said the sanctions proposal doesn't mention a no-fly zone over Libya, though "it's not ruled out in the future." The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was due to discuss the conflict in a meeting of ambassadors at NATO headquarters in Brussels today.

President Barack Obama consulted with Cameron, Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last night and talked with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today about a coordinated response to the situation in Libya.

There's "little chance" of military action by the countries that would be capable of it, including the U.S., said Jan Techau, an analyst at the NATO Defense College in Rome, in a phone interview. "Once you intervene, you own the place. Who do you back? Who are the warring factions? And how do you get out? The fog of war is extremely dangerous."

McCain and Lieberman, speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem today, urged NATO countries to impose a no-fly zone on Libyan airbases to prevent air attacks on the anti-Qaddafi forces. Lieberman said they should get "military support to complete the change of leadership."

Switzerland froze the assets of Qaddafi and his entourage for three years. U.K. officials have identified billions of pounds in assets held by Qaddafi in British banks and are planning to freeze them, the Daily Telegraph reported, citing an unidentified official with knowledge of the matter.

Qaddafi told state television yesterday that "drugged kids" were responsible for the uprising, under incitement by foreigners including al-Qaeda. Ambassadors and senior officials from the judiciary have abandoned the regime, and one of the leader's cousins and confidantes, Ahmed Qaddaf al-Dam, defected to Egypt.

"There isn't a room for compromise," said Hamid. "Mubarak and Ben Ali knew that their time was up. Qaddafi doesn't know that his time is up. This means that he has to be forced out by the army or someone has to kill him."

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