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Gadhafi denies leaving Libya

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi insisted he has not fled, as he made his first comments since violence broke out in his country as protesters demand his ouster.
This photograph, obtained by The Associated Press outside Libya and taken by an individual not employed by the agency, shows a scene from recent days of unrest in Benghazi. ((Associated Press))

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Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi insisted he had not fled, as he made his first comments since violence broke out in his country as protesters demand his ouster.

"I am here to show that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela," Gadhafi said in an interview broadcast by Libyan state television. In the interview, which lasted less than a minute and aired after 2 a.m. local time, Gadhafi said he was in the capital Tripoli. He could be seen in the front seat of a vehicle, carrying an umbrella.

"Don't believe those misleading dog stations," he said, referring to earlier reports that had suggested that he had fled to Venezuela.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had seen some information that Gadhafi had left for South America. However, the Venezuelan government and Libya's deputy foreign minister have both denied those reports.

Gadhafi's statement came after Libyan air force jets reportedly fired on protesters in Tripoli.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi appears in a brief interview broadcast early Tuesday morning local time by state television. Gadhafi said he was in the capital Tripoli. ((Libyan State Television/Associate Press))

Arab television network Al-Jazeera English played an audio interview with a witness purportedly from the capital describing a heavy aerial bombardment and intense shelling all over the city.

Libyan state TV said Monday a large military operation was underway against "pockets of terror."

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, a son of the country's longtime leader, was quoted by state TV as denying that the airstrikes targeted Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi. He said the attacks were on ammunition dumps in remote areas away from residential neighbourhoods.

In another development, military officials in Malta have confirmed that two Libyan pilots, both colonels, have defected to the island nation. The pilots took off in a pair of single-seater jets but refused to bomb protesters, according to media reports.

A Libyan air force pilot walks next to his Mirage F1 fighter jet after landing at Malta International Airport outside Valletta on Monday. ((Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters) )

Following the ouster of long-term leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, Libyan protesters have been demanding the resignation of Moammar Gadhafi, who has ruled the country for almost 42 years.

In Tripoli, armed militia units drove through the streets, using loudspeakers to tell people to stay in their homes, witnesses said. Others said gunmen fired rounds at the facades of houses to intimidate residents.

There were reports of one young man shot to death on the streets of Tripoli after gunmen opened fire to scatter youths who had congregated.

A woman in Tripoli who spoke to CBC News said she could hear gunfire, and was too afraid to leave her home.

"The city is in a big panic. It's not safe even to walk for a few minutes," she told CBC via audio-only on Skype because she did not want to be identified out of fear for her safety.

Canadians in Libya

Canadian citizens in Libya requiring emergency assistance should contact the Canadian Embassy in Tripoli at 218 (21) 335-1633, or call Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada's Emergency Operations Centre collect at 613-996-8885. Email can be sent to sos@international.gc.ca

The woman said she had enough basic supplies while she remained in her home.

Banks, pharmacies closed

"We learned from Tunisia in January, so we had grocery supplies. Two days ago, we bought everything we need," she said. "We expected this was going to happen, but we didn't expect it to be as bad as it is now."

The woman said it was not safe enough to go to work on Monday, adding that banks, shops and pharmacies in Tripoli are closed.

A Canadian computer programmer who has lived in Tripoli for almost two years told CBC News' Zulekha Nathoo he has been hearing bombs go off sporadically. The Canadian also said he has been hearing machine-gun bursts lasting 20 to 40 seconds.

The man also told CBC that a friend of his who works in a hospital emergency ward said the blood bank has been closed in Tripoli and that doctors have been trying to find another location.

Communications are difficult in Libya as international calls have been blocked and the internet has also been largely blocked.

Cracks began emerging among senior officials in the Libyan regime on Monday.

A group of Libyan army officers called on the military to "join the people" and toss out Gadhafi, Al-Jazeera reported.

In New York, Libya's ambassador at the United Nations demanded Gadhafi step down. Ibrahim Dabbashi said if Gadhafi does not step down, "the Libyan people will get rid of him."

A turbulent past

In 1969, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, then 27, led a successful coup against King Idris I. Gadhafi abolished the 1951 constitution and ruled along with a 12-member Revolutionary Command Council.

In the 1980s, Gadhafi and Libya were responsible for a number of notorious incidents. In 1986, after the U.S. blamed Libya for a bombing in a Berlin disco that killed two American servicemen, President Ronald Reagan ordered airstrikes against Tripoli.

In 1988, a bomb blew up a Pan American 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. Later investigations tied that bombing and the bombing of a French DC-10 over Niger that killed 170 to Libya.

In August 2003, Libya agreed to take responsibility for the actions of its agents in the Lockerbie bombing and paid $2.7 billion US to the families of the 270 victims.

Dabbashi called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent mercenaries, weapons and other supplies from reaching Gadhafi.

Libya's ambassador to the United States also said he could not support Gadhafi, and the Libyan ambassador to India resigned.

Separately, the pro-government news website Qureyna reported that Libya's justice minister quit to protest the "excessive use of force against unarmed protesters."

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi said on state television that his father and security forces would fight "until the last bullet."

Egyptian state TV reported that 160 people died on Monday alone.

Jubilation in Benghazi

Protesters celebrated in Benghazi, the country's second-largest city on Monday, claiming they had taken control of the streets. The Libyan flag at the city's main courthouse was pulled down and replaced with the flag of the monarchy that was ousted in the 1969 military coup that brought Gadhafi to power.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon talked to Gadhafi via telephone for about 40 minutes on Monday, and called for an immediate stop to the violence. He also called for the Libyan regime to respect human rights, including peaceful assembly and information, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

"The secretary general underlined the need to ensure the protection of the civilian population under any circumstances," Nesirky said. "He urged all parties to exercise restraint and called upon the authorities to engage in broad-based dialogue to address legitimate concerns of the population."

With files from The Associated Press

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