More skirmishes in Libya as U.S., Europe ratchet up pressure

A spokesman for the Libyan government accused western nations and Al-Qaeda of trying to create violence in Libya while the opposition braces for a battle with Gaddafi's forces.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 28, 2011; 3:50 PM

BENGHAZI, LIBYA - Forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi carried out airstrikes and skirmished with rebels in parts of Libya on Monday, as European and U.S. officials took steps to pressure the longtime leader to resign.

In an interview with Western reporters, Gaddafi said he could not step down because he is not a president or king, and he asserted that there have been no demonstrations against him in the capital, Tripoli, ABC News reported Monday.

"My people love me," ABC's Christiane Amanpour quoted Gaddafi as saying. "They would die for me." She said Gaddafi denied ever using force against his people, accused al-Qaeda of encouraging youths to seize arms from military installations and said he felt betrayed by the United States.

"I'm surprised that we have an alliance with the west to fight al-Qaeda, and now that we are fighting terrorists they have abandoned us," he said. "Perhaps they want to occupy Libya."

Gaddafi called President Obama a "good man" who might have been misinformed about Libya. "The statements I have heard from him must have come from someone else," ABC quoted Gaddafi as saying. "America is not the international police of the world."

Wearing brown tribal garb and sunglasses, the Libyan leader gave the interview at a restaurant on a seaside road in Tripoli, ABC said. Also participating were reporters for the BBC and London's Sunday Times.

In Washington, the Treasury Department announced that it has frozen $30 billion in assets belong to Gaddafi, his relatives and loyalist officials in the largest such action by the United States.

Responding to Gaddafi's assertion that his people love him, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, "He should get out of his tent and see what is really happening in his country."

In Zawiya and Misurata - the two opposition-held cities closest to the capital, Tripoli - rebel forces were reported locked in standoffs with Gaddafi loyalists.

Anti-government forces Misurata, 131 miles east of Tripoli, fired at a helicopter that was trying to attack the antenna of the local radio station Monday, residents said in telephone interviews. The helicopter was armed with missiles but flew away in the direction of Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, farther to the west, after opposition supporters opened fire on it, an eyewitness said.

It was the third time in as many days that helicopters have attempted to attack the antenna or the radio station, the residents said. On Saturday, a helicopter offloaded six to eight soldiers near the site of the radio station in an apparent bid to seize it. But they were attacked by armed regime opponents, who have secured weapons from one of the town's military barracks, residents said. They said the attackers managed to escape, leaving their weapons behind.

Another helicopter that approached the radio antenna on Sunday was chased away by gunfire, a witness said.

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