Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi appeared on television tonight for the first time to speak about the U.S. attack on Libya early yesterday, ending speculation here and abroad that he had been killed in the raid or had left the country.
The Libyan leader, looking healthy and wearing a white naval officer's uniform, spoke in a calm, conversational tone as he sat in front of a map of Libya and declared that "we are ready to die for our country if attacked."
"Put back the lights in the streets," Qaddafi told his people, and within minutes, streets throughout the Libyan capital -- which had been blacked-out because of fears of further U.S. raids -- erupted with lights, honking horns, chants and dancing.
Qaddafi's appearance on television came only hours after foreign reporters were allowed to visit the badly damaged military compound that he used as a command post and family home. The damage, including several bomb craters within yards of his residence, suggested that it might have been a target of the raid.
Foreign reporters saw no evidence to back up suggestions from Washington that the U.S. bombing attack had stirred opposition here to Qaddafi's rule. But there was scattered shooting in the city and Libyan officials attributed an outbreak of gunfire on the streets near his Tripoli command post earlier today to confused attempts to repulse a flight by an unidentified plane.
There was no independent way to establish whether the telecast was live or from where Qaddafi spoke, and foreign reporters have still not seen the Libyan leader in person. The telecast was in black and white, suggesting that it did not originate at the main television studio in Tripoli.
The quality of the image, according to western television technicians here, was similar to those they have received from Benghazi and Sebha. Unlike Benghazi, a coastal city that was also a target of the U.S. raids, Sebha is deep in the Libyan interior. Qaddafi reportedly used it as his headquarters when conducting major operations of Libyan troops in the civil war in Chad, Libya's southern neighbor.
Qaddafi's rhetoric was cool by his usual standards, but tinged with bitterness.
"We did not carry our fighting to the United States, they came here," he said in the 20-minute broadcast, which also was carried on radio.
"We can tell Reagan that he does not have to try to protect his children and his citizens because we do not bomb children like the United States does," he said.
Libyan doctors said one of Qaddafi's two daughters was killed and the two youngest of his five sons were seriously injured in the bombing raid, which took place about 2 a.m. Tuesday.
"Even if the United States hits us with nuclear weapons, we will face America because Allah is stronger than the United States," Qaddafi told his people. "It is a great honor for a small country like Libya to stand and fight U.S. aggression -- and Britain and the countries of NATO."
He did not speak in terms of vengeance against those he deemed his attackers but he did thank France for refusing to allow U.S. F111 fighter-bombers flying from England to use French air space -- a refusal that added 2,400 miles to their round trip.
Before tonight, Qaddafi's only evident public appearance had been a reported meeting yesterday with the Soviet ambassador, shown on videotape on Libyan television but without sound.
Earlier today, Information Minister Mohammed Eddeen had told reporters inquiring about Qaddafi only that "he is present and he is leading the battle."
From what little information and impressions are available to members of the international press here -- often confined to their hotel -- Qaddafi and his people are still in control.
The city obviously is anxious after two nights of explosions and gunfire -- all of it since early Tuesday apparently from Libyan antiaircraft batteries.
Hostility toward foreigners on the street, especially Americans, is growing. Some western embassies are preparing evacuation plans for their people and according to one source, the West German Embassy kept its entire staff and their families in the chancellery last night for fear of mob violence.
But, contrary to some speculation in the United States, there is as yet no solid indication here that the ire of the people or the Libyan armed forces is aimed at the eccentric leader. Washington has plotted at least since August to neutralize or eliminate Qaddafi as a terrorist threat.
Although Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Tuesday that "we think he is a ruler that is better out of his country," Shultz and other U.S. officials have denied that an objective of the U.S. raid was to kill Qaddafi.
But on a tour this afternoon through the Bab Azizzia Barracks compound, an acknowledged U.S. target, at least seven large craters could be seen in the immediate vicinity of the house where Qaddafi's family sleeps, the tent where he sometimes receives visitors, and the headquarters building where he has an underground bunker with a command center and a private apartment.
The uses of these structures, including the bunker facilities, was confirmed by western journalists who in the last few months have visited the compound, which appears to cover about 15 to 20 acres.
The only officially reported casualties of the strike on the compound so far are Hana, Qaddafi's 1-year-old daughter, who was killed, and his two youngest sons. The sons, whom reporters saw in a hospital yesterday, are said to be in serious condition from concussion injuries and connected to intensive care facilities.
Less than 16 yards from what used to be the front door of the two-story family house was a crater 15-feet in diameter and about 4-feet deep. The entire blue-tiled facade of the building was pocked and pitted by shrapnel. The windows -- even the frames -- were gone and through the hole could be seen deep piles of rubble and ceiling tiles hanging in fragments. The green Libyan flags were stripped from their poles on the roof.
The shock of the explosion swept deep into the house. A guard said the young children's bedrooms were in the front. Four of the seven Qaddafi children reportedly were not hurt, but his wife was treated at a hospital for severe shock, Libyan doctors said yesterday.
Other guards said that, at the time of the bombing, Qaddafi was sleeping in the Bedouin-style tent where he has often given interviews, including one in January in which he presented his wife and children.
"God was with him and with us," said one of the men in blue jeans, his face covered by a white head cloth, who guided journalists around what seemed otherwise an almost-deserted compound.
The tent, which faces the house, is surrounded on three sides by sandbags. Beyond those, three more craters, as close as 50 yards away, could be seen in the grounds and tennis courts. The largest was at least 15 feet deep.
The tent, its walls covered with brightly colored geometric applique, was partly collapsed. A bed near the downed wall was unmade. Papers and pamphlets were still piled on the desk and a color television with a videocassette recorder appeared unscathed.
About 20 yards from Qaddafi's headquarters offices, where the bunker is and where he might be expected to have been sleeping, was another large crater, about 15 feet deep. There was no evidence that the crater had broken through to any underground rooms, but electronic equipment in the headquarters, visible through the shattered windows, was in a shambles.
A bomb in a field nearby had sprayed shrapnel across the front of the building. An octagonal guardhouse at the gate was thrown aside like a crumpled beer can.
A comparison of the damage at the compound and that inflicted on the residential Bin Ashur neighborhood, where several embassies were damaged, suggests the same kinds of bombs fell on both places.
There is little evidence to back up suggestions by U.S. officials that rockets fired by the Libyans caused the death and destruction in Bin Ashur, where 14 persons were killed and at least 60 wounded.
In both places, glass was shattered by the low-flying jets even where there were no bomb craters. One man in Bin Ashur said in broken English, "The voice of the planes exploded all the windows."
In any case, if the raid has prompted any real anger here against Qaddafi or destabilized his regime, the many western reporters in Tripoli have been unable to find any firm evidence of it.
Increasingly, the outbreaks of heavy antiaircraft fire and the occasional rattle of small arms in the streets appear to be nervous reactions to overflights and perhaps shows of force to boost morale.
On several occasions, reporters in their hotel on the harbor have heard airplanes overhead before and during the thunderous response from Tripoli's antiaircraft batteries.
Libyan officials say the airplanes are U.S. reconnaissance craft, including SR71 Blackbirds.
Early this afternoon, when reporters first tried to visit the Azizzia compound, the unpredictability of the situation here and the nervousness of the people, the soldiers and the press created a conspicuous example of how the situation can be misread or exaggerated.
As two government buses full of journalists approached the compound's high walls, there was a rattle of gunfire, then more, then continuous bursts and the flash of a rocket-propelled projectile. Some of the shots sounded outside the walls, others inside, and guards could be seen sprinting in the gates, their rifles lowered.
Earlier in the day a senior western diplomat had told reporters that there was street fighting in the city last night and he had suggested it might be related to an internal struggle in the regime.
So the two buses full of reporters fled the firing and returned to the hotel, where some journalists sent out stories suggesting that they had just witnessed what might be an attempted coup.
But 30 minutes after the shooting, the shaken reporters were loaded back onto the buses and taken back to Azizzia.