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Wed 2 Mar 2011 09:03 AM

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Gaddafi defiant even as US warships pass through Suez Canal

US says Libya faces possibility of long civil war as Gaddafi scoffs as size of revolt

Gaddafi defiant even as US warships pass through Suez Canal
LIBYAN LEADER: Col Muammar Gaddafi
Gaddafi defiant even as US warships pass through Suez Canal
Anti-Gaddafi rebels command a tank as uprising spreads across the North African state
Gaddafi defiant even as US warships pass through Suez Canal
Hungry men reach for bread behind barbed wire while waiting to enter Tunisia after fleeing Libya
Gaddafi defiant even as US warships pass through Suez Canal
Tens of thousands of guest workers from Egypt, Tunisia and other countries are fleeing to the border of Tunisia to escape the violence

US warships will pass through the Suez Canal on Wednesday on their way to Libya as Western nations put more pressure on Muammar Gaddafi to stop a violent crackdown and step aside.

The US said Libya could sink into civil war unless Gaddafi quits amid fears that the uprising, the bloodiest against long-serving rulers in the Middle East, could cause a humanitarian crisis.

Gaddafi remained defiant and his son, Saif al-Islam, warned the West against launching military action. He said the veteran ruler would not step down or go into exile.

Italy said it was sending a humanitarian mission to neighboring Tunisia to provide food and medical aid to as many as 10,000 people who had fled violence in Libya on its eastern border.

Tunisian border guards fired into the air on Tuesday to try to control a crowd of people clamoring to cross the frontier.

About 70,000 people have passed through the Ras Jdir border post in the past two weeks, and many more of the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in Libya are expected to follow.

"Using force against Libya is not acceptable. There's no reason, but if they want ... we are ready, we are not afraid," Saif al-Islam told Sky television.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told US lawmakers: "Libya could become a peaceful democracy or it could face protracted civil war." The United States said it was moving ships and planes closer to the oil-producing North African state.

The destroyer USS Barry moved through the Suez Canal on Monday and into the Mediterranean. Two amphibious assault ships, the USS Kearsarge, which can carry 2,000 Marines, and the USS Ponce, were in the Red Sea and are expected to go through the canal early on Wednesday.

The White House said the ships were being redeployed in preparation for possible humanitarian efforts but stressed it "was not taking any options off the table."

"We are looking at a lot of options and contingencies. No decisions have been made on any other actions," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe sounded a note of caution, saying military intervention would not happen without a clear United Nations mandate.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said Britain would work with allies on preparations for a no-fly zone in Libya, said it was unacceptable that "Colonel Gaddafi can be murdering his own people using airplanes and helicopter gunships."

General James Mattis, commander of US Central Command, told a Senate hearing that imposing a no-fly zone would be a "challenging" operation. "You would have to remove air defense capability in order to establish a no-fly zone, so no illusions here," he said. "It would be a military operation."

Analysts said Western leaders were in no mood to rush into the conflict after drawn-out involvements in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gaddafi, a survivor of past coup attempts, told the US ABC network and the BBC on Monday: "All my people love me," dismissing the significance of a rebellion that has ended his control over much of oil-rich eastern Libya.

Rebel fighters said the balance of the conflict was swinging their way. "Our strength is growing and we are getting more weapons. We are attacking checkpoints," said Yousef Shagan, a spokesman in Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) from Tripoli.

A rebel army officer in the eastern city of Ajdabiyah said rebel units were becoming more organized.

"All the military councils of Free Libya are meeting to form a unified military council to plan an attack on Gaddafi security units, militias and mercenaries," Captain Faris Zwei said. He said there were more than 10,000 volunteers in the city, plus defecting soldiers.

The New York Times reported that the rebels' revolutionary council was debating whether to ask for Western air strikes on some of Gaddafi's military assets under a United Nations banner.

The Times said Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, the council's spokesman, declined to comment on its deliberations but said: "If it is with the United Nations, it is not a foreign intervention," which the rebels have said they oppose.

The Times said there was no indication the UN Security Council would approve such a request, or that Libyans seeking to oust Gaddafi would welcome it.

Despite the widespread collapse of Gaddafi's writ, his forces were fighting back in some regions. A reporter on the Tunisian border saw Libyan troops reassert control at a crossing abandoned on Monday, and residents of Nalut, about 60 km (35 miles) from the border, said they feared pro-Gaddafi forces were planning to recapture the town.

Mohamed, a resident of rebel-held Misrata, told Reuters by phone: "Symbols of Gaddafi's regime have been swept away from the city. Only a (pro-Gaddafi) battalion remains at the city's air base but they appear to be willing to negotiate safe exit out of the air base. We are not sure if this is genuine or just a trick to attack the city again."

Across the country, tribal leaders, officials, military officers and army units have defected to the rebels.

Tripoli is a clear Gaddafi stronghold, but even in the capital, loyalties are divided. Many on the streets on Tuesday expressed loyalty, but a man who described himself as a military pilot said: "One hundred percent of Libyans don't like him."

The UN General Assembly on Tuesday unanimously suspended Libya's membership of the UN Human Rights Council. A UN Security Council resolution on Saturday called for a freeze on Gaddafi's assets and a travel ban and refers his crackdown to the International Criminal Court.

The United States has frozen $30 billion in Libyan assets.

Libya's National Oil Corp said output had halved because of the departure of foreign workers. Brent crude prices surged above $116 a barrel as supply disruptions and the potential for more unrest in the Middle East and North Africa kept investors on edge.

Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, citing unnamed US sources, said British special forces were preparing to seize mustard gas and other potential chemical weapons in Libya.

It quoted unnamed British sources as saying they had not yet received a specific US request for involvement, but officials said plans were being drawn up for "every eventuality."


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Ghazi 9 years ago

Where was/is the West when the Palestinians were/are being butchered?

Gaddafi beahviour is no different to the USA, just look at what happened at Fallujah.

They just want the oil.

...and justice for all! 9 years ago

I completely agree with you Ghazi! Where were they when Ghaza was/is bulldozed? where are their big slogans now "exercise the legitimate right to self defense"? not applicable to Gaddafi? or is this exclusive to Israel?! double standards?
I'm being cynical here, don't get me wrong, I am horrified and appalled by Gaddafi's butchery against his own people and I wish he will be captured and judged in Libya, by Libyans!
By the way, I would be curious to see what libyans (in Libya) think about this "rush of generosity" from the US...

Mo 9 years ago

So Ghazi, you would prefer that Gadafi continues to butcher his own people rather than support anyone steps in and stops the killing? Hopes god that you or I are never in such a position dying at the hands of our leaders, and others say - "no let them die rather than some nation who we do not care for to save their lives." Let us care about the people today and the politics tomorrow.

Ghazi 9 years ago

Thanks you...I agree with you also.

Gaddafi is a tyrant, murderer and traitor to his people, but if he is to be removed, it should be by the Libyans and if necessary the OIC.

The Allied forces cannot be trusted.

Rainigade 9 years ago

What the hell does the US have to do with this? Why are they bringing their warships now? Who invited them? Where were these concerned US officials during the Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen riots??

Disgusting, what the US will do, for oil!

Red Devil 9 years ago

If I recall those other protests didn't involve the use of the government's airforce and heavy artillery.

Should the world just sit back and let this madman attack innocent civilians or should we get involved? Would you be happy to sit back letting these people get killed knowing you could have done something about it?

It isn't just the US. The UK has local airbases they can use, the italians are a short flight across the Med and the French aren't too far away. This is far from being a US led plan. If anyone I would say David Cameron has been the most vocal.

toddington 9 years ago

The US has stepped in now because the situation in the gulf has escalated and is threatening their economy at a time when its incredibly fragile. They are also doing so under the full support of the UN and the G20. You all need to get a grip of yourselves and stop blaming the US for the state of your own back yard. These issues are driving inflation around the world and have the potential to kick off a very prolonged double dip recession that will benefit no one and see a high percentage of people reading this site out of a job.

Rainigade 9 years ago

So you're saying that Bahrainis havent died? Omanis havent died? Egyptians havent died?

Whats the "West" (since you're saying its not just the US) doing in these countries then?

Saleem 9 years ago

When Gaddafi kills hundreds of Libiyans, the West calls it genocide against humanity and US rushes its warships to help Libiyans within days but when Israel murders innocent unarmed palestinians throughout the years it is called "act of self defence," wow the West,, we appreciate your greed for oil.