Gadafy vows again to stay on


Muammar Gadafy has again vowed to stay in Libya and blamed foreigners and al-Qaeda for the unrest that is threatening his 41-year rule, according to a transcript of an interview he gave to Serbian television.

In the interview, which journalists at the Pink station in Belgrade said was conducted at his office in Tripoli, the Libyan leader also condemned the United Nations Security Council for imposing sanctions on him and launching a war crimes inquiry.

Rebels in Bengahzi in eastern Libya said today they had formed a national council, pledging to help free areas of the country still under Col Gadafy's rule and describing the council as the face of the revolution.

National Libyan Council spokesman Hafiz Ghoga said it was not an interim government, was not contacting foreign governments and did not want them to intervene.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the United States was "reaching out" to opposition groups in the east.

Libya has tipped into a political vacuum since an uprising against Col Gadafy's rule erupted on February 17th. In places such as Benghazi that have ejected Gadafy loyalists, citizens have set up committees to act as a local authority and run services.

Col Gadafy and his loyalists still control Tripoli, but their grip beyond the capital has been shrinking and all of eastern Libya and some areas closer to Tripoli are in rebel hands.

"The main aim of the national council is to have a political face ... for the revolution," Mr Ghoga told a news conference after the Benghazi gathering to announce the council's formation. But he said the council was not an interim government. "We will help liberate other Libyan cities, in particular Tripoli through our national army, our armed forces, of which part have announced their support for the people," Mr Ghoga said, but he did not give details about how the council would help.

In Washington, Mrs Clinton said the United States was reaching out to Libyans in the east and further west as the revolt moved across the country. "It is too soon to see how this is going to play out," she added. She was speaking to reporters before leaving for Geneva to consult with allies on Libya's crisis.

Although not a direct response to Mrs Clinton's remarks, Mr Ghoga said: "We are completely against foreign intervention. The rest of Libya will be liberated by the people ... and Gadafy's security forces will be eliminated by the people of Libya."

Mr Ghoga said the membership of the National Libyan Council and its workings was still being worked out. "It is premature to talk about elections. We still have a capital under siege," he said.

Meanwhile, armed rebels were in control of Zawiyah, some 50km west of the capital Tripoli, today and their red, green and black flag flew above the town.

"This is our revolution", a crowd of several hundred people chanted, punching the air in the centre of the town. Some stood on top of a captured tank, while others crowded around an anti-aircraft gun. Women stood on top of buildings cheering on the men in the crowd below.

"Libya is the land of the free and honourable," a banner read. Another depicted Col Gadafy's head with the body of a dog.

Bullet holes pock-marked charred buildings where the fighting had been most intense, while burned-out vehicles lay abandoned in the streets.

The scene in Zawiyah was another indication that the Libyan leader’s grip on power appeared to be shrinking by the day. Reuters correspondents found residents even in some neighbourhoods of Tripoli proclaiming open defiance after government security forces melted away.

The UN Security Council unanimously imposed travel and asset sanctions on Col Gadafy and close aides, ratcheting up pressure on him to quit before any more blood is shed.

The death toll from nearly two weeks of violence in Libya is estimated by diplomats at about 2,000.

A group of foreign journalists were driven to Zawiyah by Libyan authorities today apparently to show that forces loyal to Col Gadafy still held the town. But once there, it was evident that it was the rebels who were in control.

Residents told of fierce fighting for control against pro-Gadafy paramilitaries armed with heavy weapons. "We are finished with Gadafy. He will fall soon. He has to go now. We are losing patience," one man, called Sabri, said in the centre of Zawiyah.

"Gadafy is crazy. His people shot at us using rocket-propelled grenades," said one man, who gave his name as Mustafa.

A doctor at a makeshift clinic in the town mosque said 24 people had been killed in fighting with government loyalists over the past three days, and a small park next to the main square had been turned into a burial ground.

"We need more medicine, more food and more doctors," said Youssef Mustafa, a doctor. There are a lot of good doctors in Libya but they cannot get into Zawiyah."

Locals in Tajoura, a poor neighbourhood of Tripoli, had erected barricades of rocks and palm trees across rubbish-strewn streets, and graffiti covered many walls. Bullet holes in the walls of the houses bore testimony to the violence.

The residents, still unwilling to be identified for fear of reprisals, said troops fired on demonstrators who tried to march from Tajoura to central Green Square overnight, killing at least five people. The number could not be independently confirmed.

Libyan state television again showed a chanting crowd of Gadafy loyalists in Tripoli’s Green Square yesterday. But journalists there estimated their number at scarcely 200.