Gaddafi goes missing as bombing blitz begins
Leader vows to arm all Libyans in phone calls
Muammar Gaddafi's location could not be established last night after missile attacks prompted the Libyan leader to go to ground.
The only response from Col Gaddafi to scores of missile strikes and air force bombing raids came in phone calls to state television in which he vowed to distribute arms to all Libyans and turn the Mediterranean into a battleground.
Col Gaddafi disappeared from view after cancelling a planned speech to loyalists at his Bab al-Azizia compound in central Tripoli on Saturday night.
News of the missiles strikes marked the first chink in Col Gaddafi's fortified sanctuary, as the chanting crowd, which had vowed to die with the leader, slunk away.
As the sound of songs and chanting was replaced by trudging feet, questions started to flow. "Why do you bomb us? Tell us why," said Aeshia Tajbouri. "Why don't you tell your governments there is no killing here?"
Coalition forces yesterday said they would not take a "gung ho attitude" but refused to rule out personally targeting Col Gaddafi if the opportunity arose.
There have decades of claims that western powers have been attempting to kill Col Gaddafi, who, like Saddam Hussein, pays obsessive attention to his personal security.
Col Gaddafi's failure to appear could mean he has left the compound to evade probable attack or represent a double-bluff to fox the coalition.
His speech amounted to a belligerent rejection of the UN-backed action to protect civilians in areas targeted by his troops.
"We will not leave our oil to America or France or Britain or the enemy Christian states that are aligned now against us," he said. "We will not leave our land. We will fight for every inch of our land and liberate every inch of it."
Officials said the government was handing out weapons to one million Libyans, men and women, in preparation for a last-ditch defence of the regime.
"Now the arms depots have been opened and all the Libyan people are being armed," said Col Gaddafi.
For good measure, he said the leaders of Britain, France and the US were acting like fascist dictators and would "fail like how Hitler failed, Napoleon failed, Mussolini failed. All tyrants fall under the feet of the people".
Col Gaddafi's regime has made no secret of its readiness to use supporters as human shields against an unseen aerial enemy. The Bab al-Azizia complex, which is surrounded by concrete blast walls, has anti-aircraft batteries, some mounted on pickups, spread through its quarters.
The opposition alleges that scores of hostages captured during the uprising are among the thousands living there.
A rally was held at the House of Resistance, Col Gaddafi's former residence, which has been preserved as a bombed-out shell since it was struck by US missiles in 1986.
Libya's past resentment of European dominance -- Col Gaddafi yesterday promised a long war against "colonial crusaders" -- was a popular rallying cry. Banners said: "Colonialism will never be back again in Libya."
Although the Libyan government had attempted to stave off attacks by declaring a ceasefire against the opposition enclave in the east, the crowd rocked to rap music promising to obliterate his enemies: "Disinfect every room, clear out the germs where ever they are."
Abdul-lati Mohammad, an investment banker and one of the organisers of the rally, said that Col Gaddafi was the only ruler capable of ruling a united Libya.
He said: "These people gathered here are from all regions of Libya. They want to stand with Col Gaddafi and show that the Security Council has not been fair in its judgments."
However, the show of solidarity backfired on its organisers. The first missile barrage demonstrated Libyans' loyalty to the battered regime was not unconditional as many melted away.
One onlooker said: "These people could be ripping this place apart in a week, denouncing him for having deceived them." (© Daily Telegraph, London)