Human shields bussed in to help protect leader's compound
Published 22/03/2011 | 07:45
The crowd shouted "Down, down, USA. Go, Go, UK" and "Death to Sarkozy".
Inside Col Muammar Gaddafi's Tripoli compound the swelling numbers of "voluntary" human shields were in full cry. Hundreds strong, they included women with babies; all camped within the Libyan leader's fortress as the West trains its military might upon them.
Yesterday they sat on mattresses and snacked on takeaway food. A child held a toy rifle with a flashing barrel.
Muatas, a 45-year-old engineer, said: "I love Gaddafi. He is our father. I'll die for him."
No one could doubt his sincerity. The danger was just 50 yards away. An RAF air strike destroyed a building at the heart of the Bab al-Azizia complex, dubbed Libya's "Green Zone" after the famously protected international area of Baghdad.
The three-storey block reduced to rubble was located on a parade ground just 100 yards from Col Gaddafi's tent, where he holds court for foreign dignitaries and the media.
Officials said the building was an administrative unit, and not connected with the military, but an Arab newspaper reported that Col Gaddafi's son, Khamis -- a military commander -- was gravely injured in the air strike.
Col Gaddafi's response was to bus in more volunteers. In fact, he is drawing on every part of the civilian population to withstand the opening rounds of the UN-backed campaign to contain his regime.
The British Ministry of Defence yesterday admitted that RAF Typhoons were forced to abandon a Tripoli bombing raid after spotting civilians in the vicinity of a facility targeted in a second attack on the compound.
Libya's leader was also wheeling out children at a local school to demonstrate that support for his rule can withstand the barrage.
"God, Muammar, Libya only," children chanted over and over from behind their desks.
Girls as young as six recited for foreign visitors the regime's main slogans, including the latest chants about the army going house to house to wipe out those involved in the uprising that has divided Libya.
Yesterday's Spring Equinox holiday -- March 21 -- is the highlight of the year for Libyan children as families distribute gifts and cakes.
Officials had brought Barbie dolls and its locally branded Islamic equivalents to the Meethaq school in Saraj, a southern suburb of Tripoli.
As the gifts piled up, they pushed the pupils to chant in unison.
Leila Mohammad, the head teacher, claimed that normally 200 pupils attended the modest three-story school but that only 50 could attend yesterday.
Precision bombing carried out so far by the coalition has not given Col Gaddafi's supporters much scope to condemn the attacks.
The regime has been unable -- or unwilling -- to open up its hospitals or morgues for independent verification of the number of dead and injured.
Despite a second night of bombing, Libyan officials have been unable to update the number of 64 killed that was published on Sunday morning.
Instead, the children's day events were used as cover for a much more broader accusation of unflinching foreign brutality.
"Most of the children could not come here today. The houses of some of the teachers and children have been damaged in the bombing," the teacher said.
"None were killed but there were some injuries and others are too afraid to come.
"What has this got to do with a no-fly zone? This is just frightening children by using weapons against them." (© Daily Telegraph, London)