Gaddafi vows to crush rebellion as UK, France press for no-fly zone

Libyan leader Gaddafi has said that he is determined to crush the month-old rebellion against him.

Updated: Mar 16, 2011, 09:39 AM IST

Tripoli: Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi has said that he is determined to crush the month-old rebellion against him as his army said that it would soon move against the rebel bastion of Benghazi.

Only minutes earlier, anti-aircraft batteries and heavy artillery fire could be heard in Benghazi, but the aim of the shooting was unclear, as no aircraft could be seen or heard.

As fighting raged in Libya, hopes of foreign air protection for the revolt faded but were still on the table, with Britain and France pressing the UN Security Council, against stiff resistance, to impose a no-fly zone.

"If this is a foreign plot, we will crush it; if it is a domestic plot, we will crush it," said Kadhafi, who has repeatedly blamed Al-Qaeda for the revolt against his four decades of iron-fisted rule.

"The colonialists will be vanquished, France will be vanquished, America will be vanquished, Great Britain will be vanquished."

"The Libyan people will triumph; liberty will triumph."

On Tuesday night, the army said loyalists would soon move on the rebellion stronghold of Benghazi, 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) east of Tripoli.

Addressing residents, a statement said: "The armed forces are arriving to ensure your security, undo the injustice done to you, protect you, restore calm and bring life back to normal.

"This is a humanitarian operation being undertaken in your interests, and is not aimed at taking revenge against anyone," it added.

Details were too sketchy on whether the gunfire heard in Benghazi heralded an assault by loyalists, as fireworks were also heard following rumours, later denied, that Kahdafi`s Tripoli residence had been bombed.

There were also conflicting reports on whether Kadhafi`s troops had taken the town of Ajdabiya, the gateway to Benghazi, 160 kilometres (100 miles) to the south.

State television claimed earlier that "Ajdabiya is totally controlled and is being cleansed of armed gangs."

And a French news photographer said loyalists had cut the road north, amid scenes of chaos in the city.

But rebel spokesman Khaled al-Sayeh later denied Ajdabiya had fallen, saying it "is still in the hands of the revolutionaries."

"They bombarded the town from far away, but now things are good. Army units tried to get back into the town, but our forces drove them off."

Speaking to journalists in Benghazi, he also denied that the road from Ajdabiya had been cut by loyalists, saying: "They have been liquidated."

In Tripoli, deputy foreign minister khaled Kaaim told AFP: "I confirm that Ajdabiya is under (our) control. There are still some elements firing, and our forces are pursuing them.

"We are now beyond Ajdabiya -- our forces are heading for Benghazi."

Shelling and air strikes that pounded Ajdabiya earlier killed and wounded an undetermined number of people.

At the hospital, wounded and dead rebels were being brought in from the front line just a few kilometres (miles) away.

Some were accompanied by unhurt fighters, sparking fierce rows with doctors accusing them of leaving the battle, but the rebels said they were completely outgunned.

Earlier, rebels in Ajdabiya manned anti-aircraft guns pointing down the boulevard along which Kadhafi`s troops were expected to appear.

Doctor Suleiman al-Obeidi said: "We want a no-fly zone and surgical strikes. We are civilians. What can we do against heavy weapons? Against tanks, Grad rockets and warships?"

But leading powers meeting in Paris dropped proposals for military intervention and turned to the United Nations.

G8 foreign ministers "agreed that the UN Security Council should increase the pressure, including through economic measures, for Moamer Kadhafi to leave," said the French host, Alain Juppe.

Earlier, rebels in Ajdabiya manned anti-aircraft guns pointing down the boulevard along which Kadhafi`s troops were expected to appear.

Doctor Suleiman al-Obeidi said: "We want a no-fly zone and surgical strikes. We are civilians. What can we do against heavy weapons? Against tanks, Grad rockets and warships?"

But leading powers meeting in Paris dropped proposals for military intervention and turned to the United Nations.

G8 foreign ministers "agreed that the UN Security Council should increase the pressure, including through economic measures, for Moamer Kadhafi to leave," said the French host, Alain Juppe.

A drive by France and Britain to impose a no-fly zone over Libya failed to win round other European Union members in the G8 bloc, as well as the United States and Russia, but London and Paris were pushing the idea at the Security Council.

A drive by France and Britain to impose a no-fly zone over Libya failed to win round other European Union members in the G8 bloc, as well as the United States and Russia, but London and Paris were pushing the idea at the Security Council.

We`re talking in terms of hours, and in terms of hours we do think that a no-fly zone is the least thing that we can do here," French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said.

"We are deeply distressed by the fact that the things are worsening on the ground, that the Kadhafi forces are moving forward extremely quickly and that this council has not yet reacted," he said.

"The goal is first to prevent Kadhafi from bombing his own people, really, that is our goal."

But Araud admitted that supporters of a no-fly zone had to accept there is opposition.

"It means that we can`t do everything that we would want to do. So we are trying, France and the UK, especially, we are trying our utmost to move the council towards responding to the Arab League," which has called for a no-fly zone.

Araud said France wanted a resolution passed "in the very coming days."
Russia and China, two of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, are leading opposition to a no-fly zone.

Juppe accused China of blocking Security Council action.

"If today we are stuck, it`s not only because Europe is impotent, it`s because at the Security Council, for now, China doesn`t want any mention of a resolution leading to the international community`s interference in a country`s affairs," he said.

The White House defended President Barack Obama`s reluctance to order US forces to mount a no-fly zone, following domestic criticism.

"I do not believe that the American people would want the US president to act unilaterally in a way to engage militarily without taking careful consideration of what the consequences of that would be," spokesman Jay Carney said.

In New York, diplomats said the main Security Council powers expected to distribute a draft resolution proposing tougher sanctions against Libya to all council members on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Washington slapped sanctions on Libya`s Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa and 16 state-owned companies.

PTI