Gadhafi vows retaliation against no-fly zone

A combative Moammar Gadhafi threatens to retaliate if Western nations try to impose a no-fly zone over his country.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks during an interview with TRT Turk television reporter Mehmet Akif Ersoy at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli. (Huseyin Dogan/Reuters)

A combative Moammar Gadhafi threatened Wednesday to retaliate if Western nations try to impose a no-fly zone over his country.

In interviews with foreign journalists and in an appearance on state television, the dictator said Libyan citizens would take up arms against Western powers.

Gadhafi also repeated that the people of Benghazi have to rise up against traitors in their midst, the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault reported from Tripoli.

"Certainly, in the last 24 hours, we have seen a very cocky, very belligerent Moammar Gadhafi," Arsenault said Wednesday.

"He had two interviews scheduled with Turkish and French television late last night. He could have chosen to do them anywhere in this city, but he insisted on sweeping in through a crush of media … fists in the air."

Gadhafi's threats come as U.S. President Barack Obama's senior advisers were to meet to outline what steps are realistic and possible to pressure Gadhafi to halt the violence in the country and give up power.

The discussion at the White House is to examine the ramifications of a no-fly zone over Libya and other potential military options, although the final decision will rest with Obama, officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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In a no-fly zone over all or part of Libya, the United States or partner nations would patrol with warplanes to deter Gadhafi from using his air force to bomb civilians. Targeted aerial assaults with planes or missiles are another possibility.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, national security adviser Tom Donilon and CIA director Leon Panetta were among those expected to attend Wednesday's meeting.

In an interview Tuesday, Clinton said any authorization of a no-fly zone must come from the UN Security Council.

"We think it's important that the United Nations make this decision — not the United States," Clinton told Britain's Sky News.

Gadhafi spoke with Turkey's state-run TRT Turk television late Tuesday after a surprise appearance at a hotel where foreign journalists are staying in Tripoli.

In separate remarks, he called on Libyans in the rebel-held east of the country to take back control from the opposition leaders who have seized the territory.

Forces loyal to the Libyan leader have been fighting rebels in the east as well as in a handful of towns close to Tripoli, the capital, where he has total control.

Severe fighting west of Tripoli

In Tripoli, Arsenault reported there is still grave concern about the city of Zawiya to the west.

"Not that long ago, it was being described as a rebel stronghold," she said. "No longer. The Libyan government insists it has control of Zawiya now, but the fighting is still severe."

There was no way to verify the claim as journalists have been unable to get to the city and phone lines have not been working for days.

The biggest oil refinery in the country is on the edge of Zawiya. It has been shut down.

"Hospitals are said to be overflowing, many homes severely damaged, columns of tanks in the square, and the few eyewitness accounts suggest real brutality in the fighting," Arsenault said.

Libyan state television broadcast footage Wednesday reportedly showed Gadhafi supporters walking freely through the streets of Zawiya, The Associated Press reported. The footage showed them waving Libyan flags and holding aloft photographs of Gadhafi.

In the east, an Associated Press reporter at Ras Lanuf near the front line of fighting saw an explosion from the area of the Sidr oil facility, some 580 kilometres east of Tripoli. Three columns of thick smoke rose from the area, apparently from burning oil.

Mustafa Gheriani, an opposition spokesman, said the government artillery hit a pipeline supplying Sidr from oil fields in the desert. An oil storage depot also was hit, apparently by an airstrike, he said.

A nurse in in Benghazi, Libya, treats a man wounded during clashes between rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. ((Suhaib Salem/Reuters))

In the interview, Gadhafi was responding to U.S. and British plans for action against his regime, including imposing a no-fly zone to prevent Gadhafi's warplanes from striking rebels.

Gadhafi claimed such a move would lead Libyans to understand that foreigners' want to seize oil and take their freedom away. If that happened, he said, "Libyans will take up arms and fight."

Libyan state television also broadcast remarks by Gadhafi addressing youths from the town of Zintan, 120 kilometres southwest of Tripoli.

He again blamed al-Qaeda operatives from Egypt, Algeria, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories for the turmoil in his country since Feb. 15.

State television broadcast Gadhafi's address early Wednesday but did not say when the Libyan leader had spoken.

Gadhafi has been in power since 1969, when he led a military coup that toppled the monarchy.

The UN estimates that more than 200,000 people have fled Libya to escape the violence.

With files from The Associated Press