Gadhafi defiant as defectors seek intervention
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TOBRUK, Libya -- Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, vowing to "die as a martyr," exhorted loyalists Tuesday to help him crush a rebellion, even as top-level defections splintered the regime.
New atrocity allegations emerged, including an effort to bury alive scores of protesters and soldiers who refused to shoot civilians.
Libya's interior minister, top military officers and senior diplomats joined a growing chorus of former officials calling for Mr. Gadhafi's overthrow over what residents described as wholesale shootings of protesters and bystanders in the capital, Tripoli, by security forces and mercenaries backed by tanks and aircraft.
"I hereby announce that I have abandoned all my duties to respond to the February 17 revolution," Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi declared in an interview with Al-Jazeera. "I urge the Libyan army to ... serve the people and support the February 17 revolution."
The seventh day of the insurrection against the Middle East's longest-ruling dictator was fraught with confusion and rumors. Communications to the outside world remained restricted to incoming calls, and Internet service was intermittent.
Residents in the eastern city of Benghazi, and a drive by a McClatchy correspondent from the Egyptian border to the port city of Tobruk, indicated that all of Libya's eastern wing on the Gulf of Sidra was controlled by tribal leaders, armed citizens and police and troops in revolt against the regime.
Hundreds of people are believed to have died and thousands injured in the insurrection, by far the most violent of the uprisings ignited in the region by the December self-immolation of a jobless Tunisian man that ousted leaders there and in Egypt.
The revolts also have inspired protests against the rulers of Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Morocco and Algeria, mostly by young people demanding democratic reforms and an end to corruption, unemployment and poverty.
Mr. Gadhafi made clear that he is not yielding his 42-year grip on power, gesturing wildly and glaring angrily in a podium-pounding speech, during which he declared: "I am a fighter, a revolutionary from the tents. ... I will die a martyr at the end."
The 68-year-old leader, swathed in a brown robe and brown headdress, delivered the tirade over state-run television from the entrance of his ruined residence that was hit by U.S. airstrikes in 1986 and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance to the United States.
He blamed the uprising on misguided young people who were provided drugs and cash by a "small, sick group" of "bearded men" -- an apparent reference to Muslim extremists -- as well as Libyan exiles.
Several minutes later, hundreds of regime loyalists gathered in Tripoli's Green Square shouting, "Long live Gadhafi, long live the revolution," and loosing fusillades of gunfire into the night sky, said several residents reached by phone.
In Tobruk, Maj. Gen. Suleiman Mahmoud urged the United States and other powers to support the uprising and not let their interests in Libya's petroleum reserves, Africa's largest, keep them sidelined.
Jabril Hewadi, chief radiologist of the Al Jala Hospital, estimated that his hospital and two trauma centers had received more than 3,000 casualties, including more than 200 dead, most of them shot by pro-Gadhafi forces before they fled Benghazi. Residents have rounded up more than 30 African mercenaries, he said. Many were badly beaten and were being treated in a special hospital set up at the municipal courthouse.
First Published February 23, 2011 12:00 am