Gadhafi Clings On, Arms Supporters as Libya Violence Spirals

Much of the east of the oil-producing country, including the second city Benghazi, is in opposition hands.

Libyan ruler Muammar Gadhafi clung to power in the capital Tripoli yesterday while his forces continued attacks on opposition forces.

In what appears to be a desperate measure, Gadhafi has armed many of his loyalists. In an address, he declared that "anyone who does not love Gadhafi does not deserve to live."

Libya protest - AP - 26.2.2011

Late yesterday, two British military aircraft rescued 150 Britons and delivered them to Malta, as the evacuation of foreigners has become the focus of many governments.

As the rescue unfolded, there was a standoff on the streets of Tripoli. According to journalists allowed access to the city by the Libyan Foreign Ministry, the capital appeared divided between the quiet and controlled seafront and the small alleys of the poorer neighborhoods.

In less prosperous areas there were few signs of the security forces, which have abandoned the working-class Tajura district after five days of anti-government demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam told reporters invited into the country late on Friday that peace was returning to Libya. "If you hear fireworks don't mistake it for shooting," said the younger Gadhafi, 38, smiling.

Yesterday, Gadhafi's son insisted that the rebels were few and isolated, but also warned that the unrest threatened civil war.

"What the Libyan nation is going through has opened the door to all options, and now the signs of civil war and foreign interference have started," he told Al Arabiya television.

Libyan state TV again showed a crowd chanting their loyalty to Gadhafi in Tripoli's Green Square Friday. But journalists estimated their number at only about 200.

Gadhafi called on his supporters to defend Libya.

"We can defeat any aggression if we have to, we will arm the citizens. Prepare to fight for Libya, prepare to fight for your honor, prepare to fight for the oil," Gadhafi said. "At the right time we will open the arms depots so that all Libyans and tribesmen will be armed so that Libya will become red with fire."

Much of the east of the oil-producing country, including the second city Benghazi, is in opposition hands.

From Misurata, a city 200 kilometers east of Tripoli, residents and exile groups said forces loyal to Gadhafi, operating from the local airport, had been rebuffed.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council went behind closed doors yesterday in an urgent session to discuss sanctions against Libya.

The draft resolution includes an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel bans for Gadhafi and his associates. It also refers Gadhafi to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, which could prove to be a sticking point for some member nations, including China.

The session yesterday comes the day after Libyan Ambassador Mohamed Shalgam made an impassioned appeal to his UN counterparts.

"I hope within hours, not days, that they can do something tangible," he said.

Protesters in Zawiyah, an oil-refining town on the main coastal highway, have fought off government forces for several nights, according to witnesses who fled across the nearby Tunisian border.

At Tripoli's international airport, thousands of desperate foreign workers besieged the main gate trying to leave the country as police used batons and whips to keep them out.

In Washington, President Barack Obama sharpened his tone after the evacuation of U.S. citizens. "Gadhafi, his government and close associates have taken extreme measures against the people of Libya, including by using weapons of war, mercenaries and wanton violence against unarmed civilians," he said.