Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Gadhafi denies Libyan revolt as battle rages

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, shown in July, said thousands will die if Libya if the U.S. or NATO intervenes. (Benedicte Desrus/Reuters)
Gadhafi denies Libyan revolt as battle rages

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi told supporters in Tripoli on Wednesday that there are no problems in his country, even as loyalists fought to regain territory from rebels in the north African country.

In a rambling, contradictory speech, Gadhafi said on state television he would fight to "the last man and last woman" while denying there were even protests in the rebel-controlled east.

Gadhafi warned that "thousands of Libyans" will die if the U.S. or NATO intervenes in his country. The estimated death toll is already 2,000, but Gadhafi said that has been exaggerated.

He said Libya's oilfields and ports are "safe" and "under control," and that the country will replace Western banks and companies by others from China, Russia and Brazil.

Gadhafi reiterated that al-Qaeda is to blame for any unrest.
Gadhafi loyalists and rebels battle

Even as he spoke, there were reports of a battle for control of a key oil installation and an airstrip on the Mediterranean coast.

The fighting was centred on the oil facilities at Brega, which the opposition has held for days. In the morning, witnesses reported that it was retaken by a large convoy of pro-Gadhafi forces. But hours later, witnesses on the outskirts of Brega said fighting resumed.

 They said some of the regime forces were surrounded by rebels, and opposition fighters at checkpoints outside Brega said they had retaken the oil facilities and an airstrip.

Brega is about 200 kilometres from Libya's second-largest city Benghazi, the nerve centre of the rebel-held east.

At the nearby rebel-held city of Ajdabiya, pickup trucks full of anti-Gadhafi fighters carrying automatic weapons, along with a tank, sped out toward the oil port, 70 kilometres away.

Wtinesses told The Associated Press they saw two warplanes bomb the eastern part of the town of Ajdabiya at 10 a.m. local time.

BBC reporter John Simpson saw a "great plume of black smoke" go up after the bombing.

The witnesses also said pro-Gadhafi forces were advancing on the town, some 750 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli, though those reports could not be confirmed.

CBC reporter Tom Parry said many people in Benghazi are concerned that Gadhafi's forces may be moving east.

"There's been some mobilization of the militia here, people saying they're ready to defend Benghazi and defend the east," Parry said.

Enlisted anti-government trainees learn how to operate an anti-aircraft gun at a training and recruitment centre for the army in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, on Tuesday. (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)   

He said truckloads of armed anti-government forces were streaming out of a military base in Benghazi.

"Some of them are heading out to Ajdabiya to try and defend that town if it comes under attack, others are getting ready to go to the frontier in Benghazi in case there's any kind of movement on the city," Parry said.

On Tuesday, loyalists pushed back rebels from towns near Tripoli, where Gadhafi appears to be in full control.

They also kept up military operations for a second straight day to try to wrest back Zawiya, the city closest to the capital which is in the hands of government opponents. But rebels, backed by mutinous army forces and their weapons, have managed to repel those attacks and have held on to Zawiya so far.

Anti-government demonstrators are demanding Gadhafi step down, but the longtime leader has resisted those calls.
France, Britain to help with exodus of Egyptians

At least 140,000 people have fled Libya, with more arriving at the Tunisian border daily.The United Nations says there is an urgent need of food, water and shelter for displaced people.

France and Britain said Wednesday they will airlift and ferry some of the thousands of Egyptian refugees stranded at the border between Libya and Tunisia.

As many as 1.5 million Egyptians work in Libya, a country with a population of 6.5 million.

The French Foreign Ministry says the operation will involve large airliners and a French navy ship heading to the region. It says the operation will allow the evacuation of at least 5,000 people over the course of a week, and that the operation is being carried out in co-ordination with the European Union.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Wednesday that the U.K. will also be sending aircrafts to pick up the stranded Egyptians.

CBC's Adrienne Arsenault reported from the Tunisian port town of Zarzis that two Egyptian military ships had arrived in the last 36 hours to rescue Egyptians fleeing the country.

But Arsenault said that in the time the 1,000 who can fit on the ship are loaded, twice as many people will arrive at the border crossing of Ras Jdir.

Egypt and Tunisia, which have undergone their own political upheavals, are ill-equipped to deal with the huge volumes of people.

Arsenault said most of the people fleeing are young men who are resilient, but are still in need of shelter and food. Doctors said there has been no disease, but some injuries due to the huge crush of people, Arsenault said.

Egyptians who fled the unrest in Libya stand in line as they wait to board a ship in the eastern Tunisian port of Zarzis on Tuesday. (Anis Mili/Reuters)
 "The Tunisians who had opened their homes and their schools, who were driving up in their own cars, are now standing back saying, 'Wow, there's not much more we can do,' " Arsenault said.

Abeer Etefa, a spokeswoman for the World Food Programme said there's "no stop" to the flow of people trying to leave Libya.

"It's a humanitarian crisis at this point," she said from a busy crossing on the Tunisian-Libyan border. "Many thousands of people spent last night sleeping in the open air."

She said food aid was being distributed, but warned that the situation could worsen in the days ahead as more people stream across the border.