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Kadafi vows no mercy as chaos grows

The Libyan leader says protesters should be executed. As violence spreads and key advisors defect, he appears out of touch and out of control.

February 23, 2011|By Bob Drogin and Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times
  • A refugee from Libya waits for officials to allow traffic to proceed into Egypt at the border town of Salum.
A refugee from Libya waits for officials to allow traffic to proceed into… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Cairo and Salum, Egypt — Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi offered no concessions to protesters who have shaken his regime by capturing several major cities, denouncing them as drunkards, terrorists and "drug-fueled mice" who should be executed.

But Kadafi's tough 75-minute nationwide speech on Tuesday may not save a regime that after four decades in power seemed to be quickly disintegrating. With violence flaring in city after city, and key defections from his inner circle, he appeared out of touch and increasingly out of control.

In the speech, Kadafi praised one of his closest and most powerful aides, Interior Secretary and army Gen. Abdul Fatah Younis. Several hours later, however, Younis made clear in his own televised statement that he had joined the opposition, urging "all the armed forces to be at the service of the people … to help them achieve victory."

Libya has been effectively cleaved in half by the eight-day uprising that has killed at least 300 people. Kadafi's regime holds the capital, Tripoli, and crucial oil fields in the west, analysts said. Hundreds of miles to the east across mostly empty desert, opposition forces control the second-largest city, Benghazi, and the equally rich oil fields in that region.

The opposition claimed its latest prize Tuesday when protesters, arming themselves with weapons seized from police stations and weapons depots, occupied the Mediterranean port of Tobruk, expanding their control to the Egyptian border, according to refugee accounts.

Refugees poured out through border crossings into Egypt and Tunisia.

About a mile from a two-lane crossing at Salum, Egypt, near the Mediterranean coast, the road was clogged with vehicles that had come from all parts of Egypt, waiting for an expected flow of brothers, fathers and sons who had been working in Libya and are now fleeing. One convoy of minivans, roofs piled high with clothes, tools, bedding and belongings, came from the same village, El Minya. Many of the men, who had been working in Libya for years, said they had hidden for days until it was calm enough to get out, taking only what they could carry and leaving without getting paid.

The Egyptian army had set up a post and clinic to greet people at the border.

At the Marsa Matruh border crossing into Libya from Egypt, aid convoys with doctors, medical workers and humanitarian supplies waited in long lines. Blood shortages were said to be critical.

Pounding his fist and shouting during his speech, Kadafi vowed to die a martyr in Libya, and urged his supporters to help crush the uprising.

He threatened to "cleanse Libya house by house" if protesters didn't surrender. "When they are caught they will beg for mercy, but we will not be merciful," he warned.

The U.N. Security Council condemned the crackdown and called for "an immediate end to the violence. In a press statement supported by all 15 members, the council called on the Libyan government "to meet its responsibility to protect its population," to act with restraint, and to respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

Its action left open how much further the council might go if the violence continues, or worsens, diplomats said. Western nations have been eager to signal to Kadafi that he will be punished if the street battles intensify. But China and Russia, which have been reluctant to intervene in what they view as other nations' domestic matters, may resist.

"The callousness with which Libyan authorities and their hired guns are reportedly shooting live rounds of ammunition at peaceful protesters is unconscionable," said Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters that the crackdown was "completely unacceptable" and must stop. The White House deplored what it called "appalling violence." The Arab League condemned the violence and demanded an end to restrictions on media coverage in Libya.

Tripoli was reported quiet but tense after two days of clashes. Diplomats and witnesses said the military used fighter jets, helicopter gunships and foreign mercenaries to help put down the protests that raged across the city Monday and early Tuesday.

Regime opponents charged that pro-Kadafi militias used mortars and other heavy weapons, as well as automatic weapons, in some areas. Photos transmitted from inside Libya showed corpses that appeared riddled with shrapnel or that had been blown apart.

Numerous reports from inside Libya suggested militiamen and paid African mercenaries had fired into crowds, sealed off neighborhoods and shot from rooftops to quell the protests. Independent Arab media in Libya said militias were guarding access roads around Tripoli late Tuesday to block protesters from outside the capital.

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