Gadhafi at UN in 2009
Muammar Gadhafi Photo by Bloomberg
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Reuters
Anti-government protesters in Benghazi city, Libya on February 23, 2011. Photo by Reuters

Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, who has lost control of large parts of the country following violent clashes, offered his condolences over those who died, calling them "Libya's children."

The embattled leader, speaking to Libyan TV on Thursday, blamed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for manipulating Libyans who have risen up him and taken control of large parts of the oil-producing country.

"Bin Laden ... this is the enemy who is manipulating people," Gadhafi said, speaking by telephone to Libyan television. "Do not be swayed by bin Laden."

"I only have moral authority," said Gadhafi, who has long sought to present himself as a leader of a revolution that is led by the people, rather than a traditional executive head of state.

"No sane person" would join the protests against his rule, Gadhafi said and called on citizens to take weapons from those who were protesting. He also said in reference to the fighting that people were taking hallucinogenic drugs.

Meanwhile, opponents of the Libyan leader have occupied the center of a town near the capital and are laying home-made traps to fend off counter-attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces, a witness said.

Residents of Benghazi said key Libyan oil and product terminals to the east of the capital are in the hands of rebels who have seized control. They said the oil and product terminals at Ras Lanuf and Marsa El Brega were being protected.

Soliman Karim, a resident involved with helping administer the eastern city of Benghazi, said exports, a vital source of income for OPEC-member Libya, were continuing. A second resident suggested flows might have been affected. The information could not immediately be confirmed from those operating the terminals.

Libya's Quryna newspaper reported that ten people were killed while fighting in the western Libyan town of Zawiyah, where witnesses had reported heavy gunfire and chaotic scenes, earlier on Thursday.

The newspaper said that the death toll was likely to rise because shooting was preventing the wounded from reaching hospital.

Referring to the violent clashes taking place in Zawiyah, Gadhafi said, "What is happening in Zawiyah is a farce. ... Sane men don't enter such a farce." He called on citizens to "leave the country calm."

Zawiyah is about 50 km (30 miles) west of the Libyan capital and appeared to have become the country's biggest flashpoint for fighting.

Sharif Abdeen, a 25-year-old Egyptian who left Zawiyah on Thursday, said several hundred civilian opponents of Gadhafi were putting doors with nails sticking out of them in the street to try to sabotage army vehicles.

Around the town, he and other witnesses said, there was a heavy security force presence, including dozens of army jeeps and soldiers with rocket-propelled grenades.

"Everyone is so scared that people send each other SMSs and say: 'If anyone asks you if you are pro-Gadhafi or against him, do not say anything or you could get killed'," Abdeen told Reuters after crossing the border into Tunisia.

Two other people who crossed into Tunisia after travelling through Zawiyah said there were people in civilian clothes running through the streets with guns, and the sound of heavy gunfire could be heard.

Zawiyah, on the Mediterranean coast, is on the main highway between the Tunisian border and the Libyan capital and is also the site of an oil terminal.

"I heard heavy gunfire in Zawiyah and people were running around in the streets with guns," said Hussein Ibrahim, an Egyptian carpenter, after crossing into Tunisia.

"Lots of people in civilian clothes are firing at each other. They seem to be pro-Gaddafi people and their enemies," said Mohamed Jaber, who also passed through Zawiyah on his way to Tunisia on Thursday.

"It is chaotic there. There are people with guns and swords," he said.

A Tripoli resident, who did not want to be identified, said protesters gathered in the Zawiyah central square on Thursday morning when they were attacked by a unit of a paramilitary force led by one of Gadhafi's sons, Khamis.

"Between 16 and 20 demonstrators were killed on sight, and more than 100 were injured, some of them seriously, and the number of casualties is expected to rise," the resident told Reuters. The death toll could not be verified.