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Kadafi warns rebels to give up and rest of the world to stay out

His forces poised to take two rebel-held cities, Libya leader Moammar Kadafi warned that any armed foreign intervention would result in Libyan attacks on air and sea traffic across the Mediterranean,

March 17, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Tripoli, Libya — Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi lashed out at the international community and at his domestic enemies Thursday as his troops stood poised to retake two rebel-controlled cities.

Kadafi declared that his forces would attempt to enter the opposition stronghold of Benghazi on Friday and, in the audio speech broadcast on state television, also urged rebel fighters to lay down their weapons.

"We are coming," he said. "Be prepared tonight. There is no mercy for the traitors."

Photos: Rebels celebrate in Tobruk

As the international community moved to impose new punitive measures on the Tripoli regime, Kadafi and his supporters also warned that any armed foreign intervention would result in Libyan attacks on air and sea traffic, including civilian vessels such as fishing boats and cruise ships, across the Mediterranean Sea,

"All civilian and military activities will be the target of a Libyan counterattack," said a statement by the General Interim Defense Committee aired on state television. "The Mediterranean Sea will be in serious danger not only in the short term, but also in the long term."

In an interview with Portuguese RTP television, Kadafi warned, "If the world gets crazy, we will get crazy."

Heavy deployments of Kadafi's forces were arrayed near Benghazi, though there were also reports of pockets of resistance to their advance up the Mediterranean coast. Kadafi urged his supporters to brace themselves for a bloody onslaught.

"This meeting is for those who are ready to die, to be martyred," he told supporters in a separate speech broadcast on television.

Kadafi's deputies have promised to use restraint against rebel positions and have offered amnesty to any rebels who give themselves up. But Kadafi predicted heavy civilian casualties when his forces enter the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, at the same time blaming any violence on his adversaries, in an interview that appeared in the French daily Figaro on Thursday.

"These rebels are likely to use the townspeople as human shields," Kadafi was quoted as saying. "It is quite possible that these rebels kill civilians and then accuse the Libyan army."

The Libyan leader has frequently attempted to blame deaths caused by his own security forces on unspecified "gangs" or Al Qaeda militants.

Though Libya's official news agency cited military officials as saying they would halt all operations at midnight Sunday to give rebels a chance to turn their weapons in, there was no sign near Benghazi that Kadafi's forces were preparing for anything but a full-scale military assault against the rebels.

Reporters there spotted miles of gasoline, food and water trucks in convoys leading up to the city. At least 1,000 troops could be seen waiting outside the city along with nearly a dozen tanks, flatbed tank transport trucks and mobile artillery vehicles and rocket launchers.

CNN's Nic Robertson, who was on the trip, said in an interview that the soldiers were in good spirits, firing their weapons into the air. He described what he saw as "a massive army that is supplied and capable of bearing down" on rebel-held positions in Ajdabiya and Benghazi.

The reporters also spotted a possible sign that Kadafi was using air power to target rebel positions. At the airport in Kadafi's stronghold of Surt, a fighter jet took off just as journalists landed.

Relatives struggled to glean information from Misurata, the sole remaining rebel-controlled city in the country's west. Libyan state television claimed Kadafi's forces had already wrested control of the city from the rebels, a claim that could not be confirmed.

Authorities have cut off telephone lines to Misurata and barred journalists from entering the city, Libya's most prosperous. Al Jazeera television reported that Kadafi's forces had arrayed warships outside the port city of 600,000 as they tightened their siege.

Photos: Rebels celebrate in Tobruk

daragahi@latimes.com

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