Libya`s Gaddafi denies fleeing as 41-year rule teeters

Gaddafi has denied reports that he had fled to Venezuela, ruled by his friend Prez Hugo Chavez.

Tripoli: Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi appeared on state television on Tuesday signaling his defiance in the face of a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule.

"I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela," he said, under a large umbrella, leaning out of the front seat of a van. Reports on Monday said Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela, ruled by his friend and fellow revolutionary President Hugo Chavez.

Libyan forces loyal to Gaddafi have fought an increasingly bloody battle to keep the veteran leader in power with residents reporting gunfire in parts of the capital Tripoli and one political activist saying warplanes had bombed the city.

Security forces had killed dozens of protesters across the country, human rights groups and witnesses said, prompting widespread condemnation from world leaders.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was "time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed" in Libya.

State TV showed government supporters rallying and Gaddafi`s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said warplanes had hit only ammunition dumps. He did not say why jets had carried out the air strikes, but on Sunday he accused protesters of raiding ammunition depots in the eastern city of Benghazi.

No independent verification of the reports was available and communications with Libya from outside were difficult.

Cracks were beginning to appear within the ranks of Gaddafi`s supporters.

A group of Army officers issued a statement urging fellow soldiers to "join the people" and help remove Gaddafi, Al Arabiya television said.

The Justice Minister resigned in protest at the "excessive use of violence" against protesters and diplomats at Libya`s mission to the United Nations called on the Libyan Army to help overthrow "the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi".

Two Libyan fighter jets landed in Malta, their pilots defecting after they said they had been ordered to bomb protesters, Maltese government officials said.

The demonstrations spread to Tripoli, on the Mediterranean Sea, after several cities in the east, including Benghazi, appeared to fall to the opposition, according to residents.

Human Rights Watch said at least 233 people had been killed in five days of violence, but opposition groups put the figure much higher.

Gaddafi has been one of the most recognizable figures on the world stage in recent history, reviled by the West for many years as a supporter of militants and revolutionary movements. At the same time Gaddafi cut a showman-like figure with his flowing robes, lofty pronouncements and bevy of glamorous female bodyguards attending him in his tent.

Bureau Report

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