Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kadhafi says Al-Qaeda behind insurrection

by Samer al-Atrush Samer Al-atrush 2 hrs 19 mins ago

BENGHAZI, Libya (AFP) – Moamer Kadhafi blamed Al-Qaeda on Thursday for an insurrection wracking Libya as he addressed his divided nation for the second time this week to galvanise support for his crumbling regime.

Speaking on state television, the embattled Kadhafi insisted the uprising against his 41-year rule was not a people's revolt but driven by "trigger-happy" youths "stoned with drugs" inspired by Osama bin Laden.

"These are the ones who are under Bin Laden's influence and authority, under the influence of drugs."

US President Barack Obama and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy made it clear they considered Kadhafi responsible for "the continuing brutal and bloody repression" of his people.

In a joint statement following telephone talks, they reiterated a demand "for an immediate halt to the use of force against the civilian population."

Obama also called British Prime Minister David Cameron, both promising to "coordinate on possible multilateral measures on Libya."

Switzerland ordered an immediate freeze on any assets that may belong to the Libyan strongman and his entourage.

Hundreds of people have been killed amid a brutal crackdown by Kadhafi's forces since the uprising started in the eastern city of Benghazi on February 15, according to witnesses and rights groups. Some politicians say the toll could be as high as 1,000.

Foreigners told of hellish scenes in Tripoli as they fled the chaos, with countries worldwide sending planes and warships in a desperate bid to evacuate their nationals.

Thousands of foreigners packed into Tripoli airport to try to escape the widening crisis, with those who managed to leave describing how food and water were running low.

"Libya is descending into hell," Helena Sheehan, 66, said after she arrived in London aboard a specially chartered British rescue flight.

"The airport is like nothing I've ever seen in my whole life. It's absolute chaos. There's just thousands and thousands of people trying to get out."

Other foreigners told of gunmen standing on roundabouts and getting on buses looking for mercenaries.

Egyptians fleeing Libya said they had been beaten and tortured after Kadhafi's son accused Egyptians of being behind the uprising.

"We had to bribe Libyan security, who controlled certain streets of Tripoli, in order to make it to the airport," said one, Maged Ahmed from Cairo, who described seeing dead bodies lining the streets.

Italy, the nearest major European country, warned of a looming "catastrophic humanitarian crisis" as people flee North Africa.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said they faced a potential "invasion of 1.5 million people" while Asian states boosted massive air, sea and land operations to evacuate tens of thousands of their citizens.

As fighting continued, swathes of eastern Libya have fallen to opposition control and others into lawlessness, residents and reporters said.

World crude prices soared close to $120 a barrel, the highest level since August 2008, before eventually dropping back to close at $111.36, just 11 cents over Wednesday's close.

Seeking to calm markets, the White House said the US and the world community had the "capacity to act" in case of a major disruption to oil supplies.

Before the unrest, Libya produced around 1.6 million barrels a day, but most production has now halted.

In marked contrast to a 75-minute address from a podium outside his Tripoli home on Tuesday, Kadhafi spoke by telephone from an undisclosed location in an intervention that lasted barely 20 minutes.

His decision to speak by telephone rather than make an on-screen appearance has raised questions about his whereabouts, and indicates that his power base may be shrinking.

Kadhafi, 68, accused residents of Az-Zawiyah, a town 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of the capital hit by fierce fighting between his forces and rebels, of siding with the Al-Qaeda leader.

"You in Zawiyah turn to Bin Laden," he said. "They give you drugs."

"It is obvious now that this issue is run by Al-Qaeda," he said, addressing the town's elders. "Those armed youngsters, our children, are incited by people who are wanted by America and the Western world."

Striking a more conciliatory tone than in his last speech, he said the "situation is different from Egypt or Tunisia... Here the authority is in your hands, the people's hands."

"Those inciting are very few in numbers and we have to capture them...

"They have guns, they feel trigger happy and they shoot especially when they are stoned with drugs."

Meanwhile, Libyan daily Quryna said 23 people were killed and 44 more were wounded when pro-government forces attacked Az-Zawiyah on Thursday.

Quoting its correspondent there, the Benghazi-based Quryna added that "the wounded cannot reach the hospitals because of shots being fired in all directions."

An AFP reporter who arrived in Benghazi on Thursday found about 1,000 demonstrators outside the local courthouse, the starting point of the uprising and now restyled as revolutionary headquarters.

Effigies apparently of Kadhafi hung from street lamps and children played on top of an abandoned tank. Police stations had been gutted by fire but residents said there had been no looting.

In the capital, the streets were virtually deserted Thursday after a night of sustained gunfire in the eastern suburbs.

In Zouara, towards the Tunisian border, fleeing Egyptian workers said the town was in the control of civilian militias after fierce fighting on Wednesday evening.

"Our goal now is Tripoli," one protester told a town hall meeting addressed by defecting generals. "If Tripoli cannot liberate itself."

A dozen army and police commanders, including at least two generals, said in the eastern town of Al-Baida that they were joining the popular revolt, each being wildly applauded by the crowd.

On Tuesday, Kadhafi vowed to remain as Libya's leader, saying he would die as a martyr in the land of his ancestors and fight to the "last drop" of his blood.

Asian nations Thailand and India, accounting for the bulk of Libya's cheap labour, were making preparations to evacuate more than 40,000 nationals.

Nearly 20,000 people have also fled Libya by road to Tunisia over the past four days.

Cameron has had to apologise for London's slow response, following delays to its rescue mission and with a number of oil workers stranded in Libyan desert camps.

"We'll do everything we can to get those people home and then to learn the lessons if there are better and different ways of doing this," he told the BBC.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home