Gaddafi defiant despite defections of top military and state officials (VIDEO)

A picture of a screen taken from the television on Feb. 22, 2011 shows Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi gesturing while delivering a nationwide address in Tripoli. Kadhafi says he will stay in Libya as head of revolution as world powers mobilized to try to halt the bloody showdown between protesters and his security forces suspected of "crimes against humanity" to keep him in power.


Joel Saget

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has vowed to fight on and die a "martyr" in a furious and lengthy speech on state TV in which he called on his supporters to take back the streets from protesters demanding his ouster.

Gaddafi, clad in brown robes and a turban, spoke Tuesday from the entrance of a bombed-out building that appeared to be his Tripoli residence, hit by U.S. air raids in the 1980s and left in disrepair as a monument.

"I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents ... I will die as a martyr at the end," he said. "Muammar Gaddafi is the leader of the revolution, I am not a president to step down ... This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post."

"I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired ... when I do, everything will burn."

More officials defect to "February 17" revolution

In the latest high-ranking defection, Libyan Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al Abidi announced his support for the "February 17 revolution," Al Jazeera reported Tuesday night. The channel aired amateur video footage that showed Abidi at his desk reading a statement that also called on the Libyan army to join the people and support their "legitimate demands."

In an interview with the Al Arabiya television network, Younnes said, "I begged Gaddafi not to send planes, I called him. Now of course we don't speak, I have joined the revolution."

He added: "I gave orders to my men in Benghazi not to shoot protesters, not one of my men shot at protesters."

Speculating on whether Gaddafi will step down in the face of overwhelming protests, Younes said: "From my knowledge of Gaddafi, he won't leave; he will stay to the end, but he will stay alone."

Gen. Soliman Mahmoud al-Obeid, interviewed by Reuters in the eastern city of Tobruk, said he no longer stood with Gaddafi after hearing of orders to kill civilians in Benghazi, where he estimated 300 people had died.

"With respect to Gaddafi's speech, all of it was untrue. Gaddafi has not been trustworthy ... He bombs with airplanes and uses excessive force against unarmed people. I am sure he will fall in the coming few days."

Others who have resigned include the Libyan ambassadors to the U.S., India and Bangladesh.

Diplomats at Libya's U.N. mission sided with the revolt against Gaddafi and called on the Libyan army to help overthrow "the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi." In a statement, the mission's deputy chief and other staff said they were serving the Libyan people, demanded "the removal of the regime immediately" and urged other Libyan embassies to follow suit.

Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said Gaddafi had started a "genocide against the Libyan people."

GlobalPost reports from the Libya-Egypt border

Jon Jensen, reporting by phone for GlobalPost from Sallum on the Egypt-Libya border on Tuesday, said that border guards had opened the crossing to enable the sick and injured to enter Egypt.

The Egyptian military had set up a field hospital near the border crossing and was preparing for the worst.

He said the normally sleepy town of Sallum was bustling with activity, and Egyptian forces were allowing Egyptians and Libyans wounded in reportedly heavy fighting in the Eastern part of Libya to cross into Egypt.

Jensen spoke with several returnees who described a state of lawlessness with mainly anti-government forces in control and only pockets of fighters loyal to the regime.

"Everybody inside Libya has a gun. It's completely lawless," he quoted one as saying. "We're really happy to get back into Egypt because it's safer," said another, calling himself Ali Hussein. "There's no government [in Libya]."

The head of the hospital, Lt. Col. Raof Ezzat, told Jensen: "I prefer not to have to be ready but I'm expecting the worst."

Jensen said Egypt's Ministry of Health was also preparing for the worst, with 80 ambulances on call and 1,000 units of blood ready.

Libyan security forces are waging a bloody operation to keep Gaddafi in power after fighting, which began on Feb. 14, spread to Tripoli from Libya's oil-producing east. Gaddafi has ruled Libya for 41 years.

But his grip on power appears to faltering. Several Libyan ambassadors, including those to the U.S. and the U.N., have said that they are siding with protesters and have called for Gaddafi to quit. Fighter pilots have refused orders to fire on protesters and two reportedly defected Monday, flying their jets to Malta. And a group of Libyan army officers has issued a statement urging fellow soldiers to "join the people" and help remove Gaddafi.

U.S. citizens trapped in Libya

The United States said it had not been able to move non-essential diplomats from Libya, as other governments sent airplanes and ships to pick up their citizens stranded by Libya's bloody unrest, according to VOA.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday the United States was looking at various ways to move the diplomats, their families and other Americans out of Libya. He did not elaborate on why the U.S. could not to do so on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the violence unleashed against Libyan protesters was "completely unacceptable" and that the United States will take "appropriate steps" to deal with the situation.

The Netherlands and France have confirmed that their planes received permission to land in the city of Tripoli, but Agence France-Presse reported that one of France's three planes has been diverted to Malta.

Meanwhile, Britain announced it had redeployed a warship closer to Libya to aid in the evacuation effort. Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Royal Navy warship HMS Cumberland had been put on standby.

U.N. Security Council meets

The U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors on Tuesday, with Western nations pressing for a strong statement on the violence in Libya.

"There is even more concern after what was a very worrying speech by Muammar Gaddafi," said one diplomat according to Agence France-Presse.

Gaddafi vowed to crush protests amid fears of hundreds killed in a bloody clampdown by his regime.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said earlier that the council would discuss whether to establish a “no-fly zone” around the country to prevent mercenaries and arms from going to the government, Bloomberg reported.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said Tuesday that Libya's attacks on protesters may amount to crimes against humanity. In a statement, Pillay called for the immediate halt to human rights violations and denounced the reported use of machine guns, snipers and military planes against civilians, Reuters reported. "Widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity," said Pillay, a former United Nations war crimes judge.

But Libya's U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Shalgham arrived separately from his deputy ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has demanded that the Security Council order a no-fly zone over Libya,

"Gaddafi is my friend. I can criticize him but I cannot attack him," Shalgham told reporters. "He is very brave."

Warplanes attack in Tripoli

In Tripoli, resident Adel Mohamed Saleh said in a live Al Jazeera broadcast late Monday: "Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead. Anyone who moves, even if they are in their car, they will hit you."

Meanwhile, two Libyan air force jets landed in Malta on Monday and their pilots have asked for political asylum. The pilots claimed to have defected after refusing to follow orders to attack civilians protesting in Benghazi in Libya.

The pilots, who said they were colonels in the Libyan air force, were being questioned by authorities. Meanwhile, a group of Libyan army officers has issued a statement urging fellow soldiers to "join the people" and help remove Muammar Gaddafi. The officers urged the rest of the Libyan army to march to Tripoli.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said Tuesday that the organization has halted Libya's participation in all Arab League sessions, Al Jazeera reported.

Markets plunge

Libya's escalating political crisis sparked a sharp sell-off in U.S. stocks Tuesday, with the three major indexes posting their biggest one-day drops of the year, as oil prices continued to skyrocket.

Global oil prices surged on Monday, prompting several international energy companies to remove their employees or shut down production in the oil-rich North African country.

All Libyan ports — including Zawia, Tripoli, Benghazi and Misurata — had been closed, traders in the country said.

Italian oil and gas company Eni SpA said Tuesday it had suspended some of its Libyan production, including the Greenstream pipeline that supplies about 10 percent of Italy's natural gas needs, according to the Wall Street Journal. Spanish oil company Repsol YPF said Tuesday it was suspending operations in the country. 

China expressed concern Tuesday about the safety of Chinese citizens and businesses in Libya after one of its construction companies was reportedly looted and its workers run off by gunmen.

In Conflict & JusticeConflictPoliticsMiscellaneousAgence France Presse.

Tagged: AfricaEgyptMiddle East.