Embattled Gaddafi clinging to power
Published 22/02/2011 | 08:15
Deep rifts have opened in Muammar Gaddafi's regime, with Libyan government officials at home and abroad resigning, air force pilots defecting and a bloody crackdown on protest in the capital of Tripoli, where cars and buildings were burned.
Mr Gaddafi went on state TV earlier to attempt to show he was still in charge.
World leaders expressed outrage at the "vicious forms of repression" used against the demonstrators. The longest serving Arab leader appeared briefly on TV to dispel rumours that he had fled.
Sitting in a car in front of what appeared to be his residence and holding an umbrella out of the passenger side door, he told an interviewer that he had wanted to go to the capital's Green Square to talk to his supporters, but the rain stopped him.
"I am here to show that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Don't believe those misleading dog stations," Mr Gaddafi said, referring to the media reports that he had left the country. The video clip and comments lasted less than a minute - unusual for the mercurial leader, who is known for rambling speeches that often last hours.
Pro-Gaddafi militia drove through Tripoli with loudspeakers and told people not to leave their homes, witnesses said, as security forces sought to keep the unrest that swept eastern parts of the country - leaving the second-largest city of Benghazi in protesters' control - from overwhelming the capital of two million people.
State TV said the military had "stormed the hideouts of saboteurs" and urged the public to back security forces.
Protesters called for a demonstration in Tripoli's central Green Square and in front of Mr Gaddafi's residence, but witnesses in various neighbourhoods described a scene of intimidation: helicopters hovering above the main seaside boulevard and pro-Gaddafi gunmen firing from moving cars and even shooting at homes to terrify the population.
Mr Gaddafi appeared to have lost the support of at least one major tribe, several military units and his own diplomats, including Libya's ambassador in Washington, Ali Adjali.
Mr Gaddafi's security forces have unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. At least 233 people have been killed so far, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.