Defiant Gadhafi deploys forces

China Daily, March 2, 2011

Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi dispatched forces to a western border area on Tuesday in defiance of Western military and economic pressure, after he insisted in an earlier interview that "all my people love me".

A Libyan soldier loyal to Muammar Gadhafi keeps watch from his tank, under the gaze of his leader's poster, in Qasr Banashir, southeast of the capital, Tripoli, on Tuesday. [Photo/Agencies]

"They would die to protect me," he told the US ABC network and the BBC on Monday, dismissing the significance of a rebellion against his 41-year rule that has ended his control over much of eastern Libya.

Barely 12 hours after the US said it was moving warships and air forces closer to the north African country, Libyan forces re-asserted their presence at the remote Dehiba southern border crossing on Tuesday.

Reporters on the Tunisian side saw Libyan army vehicles, and soldiers armed with Kalashnikov rifles. The previous day, there was no Libyan security presence at the border crossing.

In another part of the west, residents said pro-Gadhafi forces were deployed to reassert control of Nalut, about 60 km from the Tunisian border in western Libya, to ensure it did not fall into the hands of anti-Gadhafi protesters.

Rebel forces now control vast swathes of the east of the north African country, and the US has now openly called for Gadhafi to step down, suggesting he should go into exile.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said his government would work to prepare a "no-fly" zone to protect the Libyan people.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on world powers to fully implement the UN Security Council resolution on Libya. The text, adopted on Saturday, includes a freeze on Gadhafi's assets, a travel ban and seeks to refer his regime's brutal crackdown to the International Criminal Court.

This video grab provided by ABC News shows embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi with ABC correspondent Christiane Amanpour in Tripoli on Monday. [ABC News / Via AFP]

But in his interview at a restaurant on Tripoli's Mediterranean coast, Gadhafi, 68, looked relaxed and laughed at times as he scoffed at the uprising.

He denied using his air force to attack protesters but said planes had bombed military sites and ammunition depots. He also denied there had been demonstrations and said young people were given drugs by al-Qaida and therefore took to the streets. Libyan forces had orders not to fire back at them, he said.

Speaking in English, Gadhafi said he had been let down by the United States.

"It is betrayal, they have no morals. I'm surprised that we have an alliance with the West to fight al-Qaida," he told ABC television.

"Perhaps they want to occupy Libya," ABC quoted him as saying, adding Gadhafi had insisted he could not step down because he is neither a president nor a king.

He also challenged those who have suggested he has stashed money abroad to produce evidence of such funds and said he would "put two fingers in their eye", the BBC reported.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen said the interview had taken place in a restaurant in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and Gadhafi had seemed relaxed throughout.

"He laughed quite a bit when asked various questions. He seemed very unconcerned about foreign pressure, saying the Libyan people were behind him, the Libyan people loved him," Bowen wrote on the BBC website.

Pro-Gadhafi forces battled rebels for six hours overnight but could not retake control of Zawiya, a city 50 km west of Tripoli.

They also tried Monday night to retake opposition-held Misrata, Libya's third-largest city 200 km east of Tripoli, but rebel forces there also repelled the attackers.