TRIPOLI – Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi denied Monday he had fled his country after protesters overran several cities, as his four-decade rule was under assault amid claims of a “massacre” in Tripoli.
“I am going to meet with the youth in Green Square,” in downtown Tripoli, he said, in what state television reported was a live broadcast from the strongman’s home.
“It’s just to prove that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela and to deny television reports, those dogs,” he said, holding up an umbrella in pouring rain while about to step into a car. Rain lashed Tripoli on Monday evening.
It was the Libyan strongman’s first comments — apparently to scotch rumors he had fled to Venezuela — since protests erupted last Tuesday in the east of the oil-rich north African nation he has ruled for 41 years.
After days of unrest, the uprising has now spread to the Libyan capital, with gunfire rattling Tripoli, where protesters attacked police stations and the offices of the state broadcaster, Kadhafi’s mouthpiece, and set government buildings ablaze.
Residents of two districts in Tripoli told AFP in Cairo by telephone there had been “a massacre,” with gunmen “firing indiscriminately” in Tajura district.
Another in Fashlum said helicopters had landed what he called African mercenaries who opened fire on anyone in the street, causing a large number of deaths.
“It’s definitely the end of the regime. This has never happened in Libya before. We are praying that it ends quickly,” one resident of east Tripoli told AFP in Cairo by telephone.
International concern at the crackdown on the unprecedented unrest rocking Libya is growing as events unfold with human rights group putting the death toll at between over 200 to some 400 people.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the world was “watching the situation in Libya with alarm.”
“We join the international community in strongly condemning the violence in Libya,” she said in a written statement. “Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed.”
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “outraged” by reports that Libyan security forces had fired on demonstrators from war planes and helicopters.
Saying Ban wanted Kadhafi to “immediately” halt violence, Martin Nesirky said: “Such attacks against civilians, if confirmed, would constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law and would be condemned by the secretary-general in the strongest terms.”
NATO, the European Union, United Nations, Britain, France and Italy all called for a halt to the violence.
Several Libyan diplomats at the United Nations joined calls for Kadhafi to quit, with deputy ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi telling CNN Kadhafi has “declared war” on the Libyan people and is committing “genocide.”
In an interview with BBC World, Dabbashi added: “I think it is the end of Colonel Kadhafi, it is a matter of days, whether he steps down or the Libyan people will get rid of him anyway.”
Benghazi, Libya’s second city and an opposition stronghold in the east, fell to anti-regime demonstrators after military units deserted, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) reported earlier.
Libyan state television said security forces were battling “dens of terrorists” in a sweep that has killed a number of people, without specifying where or who was being targeted.
It later reported Seif al-Islam, Kadhafi’s son, as saying Libyan armed forces had launched strikes on arms depots outside urban areas.
“The armed forces have bombarded arms depots situated far from populated areas,” the broadcaster reported in a banner across the screen, quoting the official Jana news agency.
It said he denied “reports that the armed forces had bombarded the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi,” after the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera reported air raids in Tripoli.
Earlier, state television reported that Seif al-Islam had set up a commission to probe “the sad events,” and that it would include “members of Libyan and foreign rights organisations.”
Kadhafi’s son had already appeared on television overnight to warn of looming civil conflict, saying: “Libya is at a crossroads. If we do not agree today on reforms… rivers of blood will run through Libya.
“We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet. We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other.”
Meanwhile, two Libyan fighter pilots — both colonels — flew their single-seater Mirage F1 jets to Malta and said they had defected after being ordered to attack protesters in Benghazi, Maltese military and official sources told AFP.
Italy put all military air bases on maximum alert after the fighters landed, ANSA news agency reported.
IFHR head Souhayr Belhassen said protesters now controlled Benghazi, Sirte, Tobruk in the east, as well as Misrata, Khoms, Tarhounah, Zenten, Al-Zawiya and Zouara, closer to the capital.
It said the protests had resulted in up to 400 deaths. Human Rights Watch earlier cited a death toll of 233.
Libya’s justice minister, Mustapha Abdeljalil, resigned in objection to “the excessive use of force” against demonstrators, Quryna newspaper reported.
In Cairo, Libya’s Arab League envoy said he too had stepped down to “join the revolution.” Tripoli’s ambassador to Delhi also quit, as did a diplomat in Beijing, Al-Jazeera television reported.