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Defiant Kadafi resolves to defend Libya

The dictator tells world leaders not to interfere with what he calls a fight against Al Qaeda. Over Benghazi, a warplane is shot down.

March 19, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi | Los Angeles Times
  • A jet crashes after being hit over the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
A jet crashes after being hit over the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. (Patrick Baz, AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Tripoli, Libya — — Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi said he was "prepared to die" to defend his nation and warned the international community to stay out of his country's' internal affairs in a pair of letters sent to President Obama and other world leaders Saturday.

PARIS (AP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy says France has already taken action against Libya.

Meanwhile, news agencies reported that his troops continued to violate a self-declared cease-fire against rebel-held territories as the international community prepared to impose a no-fly zone over Libyan air space. Several news outlets reported that a warplane had been shot down over the opposition-held city of Benghazi, though there was no way to discern the aircraft's origin.

Opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil told Al Jazeera that Benghazi itself was under attack by Kadafi's tanks and artillery and that a humanitarian crisis was developing with roads filled with frightened families heading toward the Egyptian border.

"All civilians have become terrified," he told the station in a live interview. "All the civilians have left Benghazi."

Kadafi's spokesmen have denied they were moving toward Benghazi, but acknowledged military maneuvers around the city in response to attacks by militants.

"Gangs of the terrorist Al Qaeda attacked early Saturday morning units of the armed forces stationed west of Benghazi," the Libyan news agency JANA reported, citing unnamed defense ministry sources. "These terrorist gangs have used helicopter gunships to bomb the armed forces in clear violation of the Security Council's no-fly zone, forcing the armed forces to react in self-defense."

Libya's civil strife, inspired by a wave of popular unrest against Arab autocrats, has torn the country violently in two. A rebel-controlled eastern enclave headquartered in Benghazi is battling Kadafi's armed forces, which have been pummeling areas controlled by the opposition with rocket fire. With the endorsement of the Arab League, the United Nations Security Council voted 10-0 with five abstentions Thursday to impose a no-fly zone and to take "all necessary measures" to protect civilians. Foreign warplanes may begin patrolling Libya's skies as early as this weekend.

Kadafi, addressing the American president as "my son," said that Libyan women and children were prepared to battle alongside him to the end against "Al Qaeda," reiterating official claims that the popular uprising against his four-decade rule was the work of violent Islamic extremists.

"I have all the Libyan people with me and I am prepared to die and they are prepared to die, men women and even children," he said in a letter to Obama. "We are fighting Al Qaeda in [North Africa]," said his letter, read by a spokesman at a press conference in the Libyan capital. "What would you do if you found them controlling American cities?"

In a separate and more harshly worded letter addressed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Kadafi warned the international community it would "regret" taking any action that could affect the country's domestic affairs. He called the Security Council vote "invalid" and a violation of the U.N.'s charter.

"Libya is not yours," he said, evoking the country's bitter 20th Century struggle against European colonialism. "Libya is for all Libyans. You have no right, ever, to interfere in our internal affairs. You will regret it if you take a step toward interfering in our internal affairs."

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