Tripoli: A senior aide to Muammar Gaddafi’s influential son Saif resigned on Wednesday, the latest top official to walk out after the Libyan leader vowed to crush a revolt that threatens his four-decade rule.
“I resigned from the Gaddafi Foundation on Sunday to express dismay against violence,” Youssef Sawani said in a text message sent to a Reuters correspondent. He was executive director of the foundation, which has been Saif al-Islam’s main vehicle for wielding influence.
A defiant Gaddafi in a long and rambling speech on Tuesday said he was ready to die “a martyr” in Libya and urged his supporters to take to the streets on Wednesday to crush the uprising that has seen eastern regions break free of his 41-year rule and brought deadly unrest to the capital.
Swathed in brown robes, Gaddafi seethed with anger and banged a podium outside one of his residences that was damaged in a 1986 US air strike aiming to kill him. Next to him stood a monument of a fist crushing a US fighter jet.
“I am not going to leave this land. I will die here as a martyr,” Gaddafi said on state television, refusing to bow to calls from some of his own ministers, soldiers and protesters who braved a fierce crackdown to clamour for him to go.
Popular protests in Libya’s neighbours Egypt and Tunisia have toppled entrenched leaders, but Gaddafi said he would not be forced out by the rebellion sweeping through his vast oil-producing nation of just 7 million people, which stretches from the Mediterranean into the Sahara.
“I shall remain here defiant,” said Gaddafi, who has ruled the mainly desert country with a mixture of populism and tight control since taking power in a military coup in 1969.
In New York, the UN Security Council condemned the use of violence and called for those responsible for attacks on civilians to be held to account.
The turmoil in Libya, which pumps nearly 2% of world oil output, sent Brent crude prices above $108 a barrel to a 2 1/2 year high and triggered Wall Street’s worst day since August as investors dumped stocks.
The White House said global powers must speak with one voice in response to the “appalling violence” in Libya and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the United States would take “appropriate steps” in time.
But Washington has little leverage over Libya, which was a US adversary for most of Gaddafi’s rule until it agreed in 2003 to abandon a weapons-of-mass-destruction programme and moved to settle claims from the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
Gaddafi called protesters “rats and mercenaries” who deserved the death penalty in his 75-minute speech. He said he would call on people to “cleanse Libya house by house” unless protesters surrendered.
He urged Libyans to take to the streets to show their loyalty. “All of you who love Muammar Gaddafi, go out on the streets, secure the streets, don’t be afraid of them ... chase them, arrest them, hand them over,” he said.
Libya’s official news agency quoted him as telling Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that “Libya is fine, its people are ... holding on to its security”.
But British foreign secretary William Hague said there were “many indications of the structure of the state collapsing in Libya”. Britain and other nations have said they are trying to evacuate nationals from the trouble torn country.
In a sign of his camp’s growing isolation, Libyan diplomats at the United Nations and several countries broke ranks with Gaddafi’s leadership.
Peru suspended diplomatic relations with Libya.
The country’s interior minister Abdel Fattah Younes al Abidi defected, Al Jazeera said. It aired video showing Abidi at his desk reading a statement urging the army to support the people and their “legitimate demands”.
Government control ?
Several hundred people held a pro-Gaddafi rally in Tripoli’s central Green Square on Tuesday, a Reuters reporter there said. “Our leader!” and “We follow your path!”, they chanted, waving green Libyan flags and holding aloft portraits of Gaddafi.
“There are several hundred (Gaddafi) supporters making their way into the city centre. They are in cars, making lots of noise and carrying his portrait,” said a resident of the Mediterranean coastal city of 2 million, which is key to controlling Libya.
A government spokesman accused international media of exaggerating the gravity of the situation in the country.
But swathes of Libya are no longer under government control.
In Sabratah, 50 miles west of the capital, the Libyan army had deployed a “large number” of soldiers after protesters destroyed almost all the security services offices, the online Quryna newspaper said.
Eastern Libya is no longer under Gaddafi’s control, rebel soldiers in the city of Tobruk says.
Tobruk residents said the city had been in the hands of the people for three days. They said smoke rising above the city was from a munitions depot bombed by troops loyal to one of Gaddafi’s sons. There was the occasional explosion.
“All the eastern regions are out of Gaddafi’s control ... The people and the army are hand-in-hand here,” said former army major Hany Saad Marjaa.
Human Rights Watch said 62 people had died in clashes in Tripoli in the past two days, on top of its previous toll of 233 dead. Opposition groups put the figure far much higher.
Naji Abu-Ghrouss, a Libyan interior ministry official responsible for public relations, said 197 civilians and 111 among the military had been killed but gave no timeframe.
The reports of the bloody crackdown have put pressure on President Barack Obama to intervene, with US politicians criticising his silence and calling for military action ranging from bombing Libyan air fields to imposing no-fly zones.
The U.N. refugee agency urged Libya’s neighbours to grant refuge to those fleeing the unrest.