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'I am still alive,' Kadafi declares a day after NATO strike

The Libyan leader's audio broadcast on state TV comes a day after his compound was hit. Meanwhile, the government says a NATO strike in Port Brega killed 16 civilians, including 11 clerics.

May 14, 2011|By Patrick J. McDonnell and Peter Nicholas, Los Angeles Times
  • A Libyan rebel stands guard on a roof overlooking Muslims performing Friday prayers in Benghazi, an opposition stronghold.
A Libyan rebel stands guard on a roof overlooking Muslims performing Friday… (Saeed Khan, AFP/Getty Images )

Reporting from Cairo and Washington — A defiant Moammar Kadafi declared "I am still alive" in an audio broadcast on Libyan state television Friday, one day after a NATO strike on his compound spurred speculation that the Libyan leader had been injured or had fled Tripoli, the capital.

The statement came after a Libyan government spokesman and a state television report said an alliance strike Friday in the eastern refinery city of Port Brega had killed at least 16 civilians, including 11 Muslim clerics, who had gathered for a religious ceremony. State television showed footage it said was of a destroyed guesthouse where bodies, wrapped in blankets and covered in dust, were arrayed amid the debris.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization confirmed a Friday strike on a "command-and-control bunker" in Port Brega but said it couldn't independently confirm the allegations of civilian casualties.

Kadafi's broadcast statement followed a flurry of reports that Libya's longtime leader may have been injured in an early-morning NATO strike Thursday on his heavily fortified Bab Azizia compound in Tripoli.

"I say to crusader cowards, I live in a place you cannot reach," the Libyan leader declared, according to the official translation of a voice identified by the government as Kadafi's. "I live in the hearts of millions.… If you kill my body, you cannot kill my soul."

Earlier Friday, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini suggested in a television interview that the Libyan leader had fled Tripoli to seek refuge "in a safe place" and had probably been injured.

A Libyan government spokesman immediately dismissed the assertion as "nonsense" and, soon after, word was circulated that Kadafi would publicly refute the report.

In the message, which lasted a little more than a minute, Kadafi said he was alive, thanked well-wishers and condemned the "cowardly" NATO strikes, which appear to have accelerated in recent days.

Thursday's attack in Tripoli killed three civilians, including a pair of journalists, said Kadafi, who cited their "martyrdom" in a message to the victims' loved ones.

"I can say to the families, do not be sad, be proud," the Libyan leader said, according to the government translation.

The tone in the brief message was notably more defiant than the almost conciliatory address Kadafi made in a rambling state television appearance two weeks ago, offering a cease-fire and negotiations. Libyan officials said a NATO strike after that address hit a house where Kadafi was staying, killing his son and three grandchildren. The Libyan leader was uninjured.

The White House, meanwhile, appears to be preparing for a post-Kadafi era.

On Friday, President Obama's national security advisor, Thomas Donilon, met at the White House with the Libyan rebel leadership and talked about providing "additional support" to the anti-Kadafi cause, according to a White House statement.

The White House did not specify if such support included weaponry. Obama did not attend the session.

Donilon told the Libyan delegation that the U.S. views the Transitional National Council as "a legitimate and credible interlocutor of the Libyan people." He also repeated the U.S. position that Kadafi has lost his legitimacy and should "leave immediately," the White House said.

The rebel delegation included Mahmoud Jibril, president of the council's executive bureau.

NATO has said it is not targeting Kadafi but is seeking to destroy his ability to wage war against Libyan civilians. A United Nations resolution authorized the NATO strikes to protect civilians. But the Libyan government has charged repeatedly that NATO was using the U.N. imprimatur to launch high-altitude assassination runs against Kadafi.

A regime spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, told journalists in Tripoli that Friday's strike in Port Brega occurred while clerics and others were gathered to pray for peace, the Associated Press reported. The spokesman said 11 clerics were killed in their sleep and 50 were wounded. Libyan state television reported 16 deaths.

In its statement, NATO said the building that was hit "had been clearly identified" as a command-and-control center.

Port Brega is a strategic oil city in the crosshairs of the anti-Kadafi rebels 50 miles to the east, in the city of Ajdabiya. More than 1,000 government troops are said to be massed in Port Brega, which is now the regime's easternmost outpost along the Mediterranean coast road. Rebels have been repulsed in several advances toward the city. The front line is now about 25 miles to the east of town, rebel commanders say.

A NATO official said Kadafi's troops in Port Brega are determined to launch a strike on Ajdabiya, about 100 miles south of the opposition's de facto capital, Benghazi.

An uprising against Kadafi's rule that erupted three months ago has seen rebels take control of much of eastern Libya; Kadafi has retained power in most of the west, including Tripoli.

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

McDonnell reported from Cairo and Nicholas from Washington.

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