TRIPOLI, Libya — Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi vowed Friday to defeat NATO, as the alliance continued bombing the capital at the four-month mark of the uprising that plunged the country into civil war.
“We are staying, we are staying!” the autocrat roared in an audiotaped speech broadcast on state television hours after a round of daytime airstrikes rattled Tripoli. “Let them even use nuclear bombs!”
Gaddafi’s tone seemed to dim hopes that international mediators could broker a negotiated end to the Libyan war, which has dragged on longer than the Western nations that backed the rebels anticipated.
In his speech, Gaddafi called rebels in the eastern part of the country “traitors” fighting under the “crusader’s flag.”
Gaddafi said the Libyan war marked the first time NATO was at war with “an armed people . . . millions and millions.”
“Even in Afghanistan, it’s only the Taliban,” he said. “They will pull out defeated.”
Rebel leaders say security forces have clamped down on demonstrations in restive neighborhoods in the capital in recent days. Anti-Gaddafi demonstrations were planned in at least three neighborhoods after Friday prayers, according to rebel leaders. But it was not clear whether those rallies took place. Libyan officials instructed guards at a hotel where Western journalists were staying not to let reporters leave without minders. A couple of British journalists tried to sneak out, but they were stopped by armed men who hauled them into a car at gunpoint and forcibly returned them to the hotel.
At 5 p.m., government minders took journalists to the Green Square, Tripoli’s main downtown plaza, where a frenzied crowd had gathered. Gaddafi supporters waved green flags, chanted in support of their leader and emptied hundreds of AK-47 magazines, firing into the air amid the crowd.
“We will die for Moammar Gaddafi,” said Hawa Mohammed, 55.
Government minders appeared to lose control of the crowd as some demonstrators turned hostile toward the journalists. A mob surrounded a team from NBC News, demanding to be interviewed in a confrontation that turned violent when one of the demonstrators kicked a government minder. The crew was whisked away in a government vehicle.
A Venezuelan television journalist was handcuffed and hauled into a car at gunpoint after government officials saw him speaking on a satellite phone. The phones draw suspicion because rebels use them to communicate with people in areas where cellphone networks have been shut down.
Late Friday, Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi said NATO has sharply escalated its bombing campaign in recent days. Libyan officials say the airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians, but they have produced no evidence to support that.
“NATO officials should be taken to court to stand trial for these crimes,” Mahmoudi said.