Gadhafi undaunted as rebel forces celebrate
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Tuesday, March 1, 2011 9:11PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 4:03AM EDT
As rebels repel his forces and the prospect of foreign intervention looms ever larger, embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi is trying to show he is not only in control of Libya, but remains concerned for its citizens.
In a move widely interpreted as an attempt to show he is both in control and compassionate, Gadhafi's regime dispatched a convoy of 18 trucks loaded with food and medical supplies to the rebel-held city of Benghazi, approximately 1,000 kilometres east of Tripoli.
Responding to news of the shipment of rice, wheat-flour, sugar and eggs, Benghazi activist Najlaa al-Manqoush said that accepting it would bolster Gadhafi's propaganda machine.
"We reject any attempt by the regime to beautify its image in the media," she told The Associated Press. "We are much smarter than that. We accept all the aid they send us from friendly nations, but not from Gadhafi."
Reports foreign military forces are preparing to enter the region were not met so favourably, however.
"Gadhafi's air force is a serious threat to us," lawyer Nasser Bin Nour told the AP. "We will welcome a no-fly zone on Gadhafi's warplanes over the whole of Libya. The only thing we object to is foreign troops on Libyan soil."
While many Libyans may not welcome an international military intervention, several countries ramped up their presence in the region Tuesday. Repeating the increasingly common refrain, "all options are open," the U.S. ordered two naval ships and 400 Marines closer to Libya, including the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that HMCS Charlottetown will begin making its way to Libya Wednesday, to assist a U.S.-led team with humanitarian and evacuation efforts.
Earlier, it was announced that the Canadian military had sent a 13-member reconnaissance team to Malta along with two new C-130J cargo planes and two C-17 transports. The planes will be used to help get foreign nationals out of the increasingly chaotic North African country.
CTV News has been told that Canadian special forces are also on the ground in Libya.
Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, responded to the build-up of Western forces in the region by saying Libya would defend itself against any military action.
"If they attack us, we are ready," he told Sky News, repeating a promise that his father's regime is prepared to implement reforms.
Rebels celebrating victories
Closer to the Gadhafi-controlled capital, rebel leaders were celebrating Tuesday after they managed to repel an attempt to take back the city of Zawiya overnight.
Witnesses say that the pro-Gadhafi troops fired on rebels in Zawiya from six different directions, but were unable to advance into the city that lies only 50 kilometres west of Tripoli.
"We will not give up Zawiya at any price," said one witness. "We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero."
Late Monday night, an Associated Press reporter saw a large pro-Gadhafi force gathered on the western edge of Zawiya, which included about a dozen armoured vehicles, as well as various tanks and jeeps that were equipped with anti-aircraft guns.
When the fighting in Zawiya was over some six hours later, a resident told The Associated Press that the rebels damaged one of the tanks with a rocket-propelled grenade before the pro-Gadhafi troops fled.
Gadhafi's forces were also rebuffed in their overnight attempt to take back the city of Misrata, which is located about 200 kilometres east of Tripoli. No deaths were reported, though one rebel fighter claimed that eight pro-Gadhafi soldiers had been captured. And rebel fighters also repelled Gadhafi loyalists in Zintan, 120 kilometres south of the Libyan capital.
The rebels include mutinous Libyan army forces that have access to the same types of machine guns, tanks and anti-aircraft guns that the pro-Gadhafi troops are fighting with.
CTV's South Asia Bureau Chief Janis Mackey Frayer said the rebel forces have collected their weapons from abandoned and captured military facilities.
Mackey Frayer reported late Tuesday that opposition forces also drove the army from a desert town called Ajdabiya, not far from oil terminals, and rebels have hunkered down in the now-abandoned bases. They have also occupied a nearby ammunition depot, she said.
To the south, rebels are also in control of much of Libya's oil and gas fields and have vowed to protect them.
"It will be of great use to us in the future because from oil we eat and drink," said one rebel guard.
Gadhafi's power is quickly eroding within Libya and he has lost control of the eastern half of the country. He still holds Tripoli and nearby cities.
Gadhafi remains defiant
Outside of Libya, the noose is tightening around Gadhafi, his family and his regime.
In the United States, Canada and Europe, legislators have moved to freeze billions in Libya's foreign assets. The European Union has imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions and a no-fly zone may soon be enforced to prevent Gadhafi from launching aerial attacks or bringing supplies into the country. World leaders and foreign governments are demanding that Gadhafi leave office.
Despite the pressure, Gadhafi remains defiant and has claimed in recent interviews that the Libyan people remain loyal to him.
"My people love me. They would die for me," Gadhafi told an ABC News interviewer in a recent interview.
With international pressure pointing increasingly towards the prospect of military intervention, Gadhafi's suggestion is striking a chord with many in the North African nation.
"People are worried about foreign intervention," said one Tripoli resident who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals. "Many Libyans see this as a conspiracy that will lead into dividing Libya into an eastern and western sector. There will be massacres."
Humanitarian disaster looms
On Tuesday, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice urged Gadhafi to consider exile or risk plummeting Libyan into a "humanitarian disaster."
But even if Gadhafi chooses to leave, Rice told CBS' "The Early Show" that he would not be guaranteed immunity from prosecution "for the crimes that he and those closest to him have committed."
After more than two weeks of anti-Gadhafi protests and violent crackdowns by loyalists to his regime, an exact death toll has been impossible to determine. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has referenced reports that suggest at least 1,000 people have been killed.
The violence has spurred more than 100,000 people to stream across the border into Egypt and Tunisia, according to UN estimates. The refugee situation at the Tunisian border has reached a "crisis point" according to the UN's refugee agency, which said as many as 75,000 people have flooded the region in just nine days.
Many of the refugees are foreign workers desperate to get out of Libya, including Vietnamese, Bangladeshis, Nepalese, Ghanaians and Nigerians, who are in desperate need of food, water and basic shelter.
With files from The Associated Press