Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nations bombing Libya are 'terrorists,' Gadhafi says

Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi called the allied nations bombing his country "terrorists" Sunday, a day after the United States, United Kingdom and France began to enforce a United Nations-mandated no-fly zone to protect Libya's civilians from their leader.

There was violence across the country Sunday, with Gadhafi apparently shelling rebels in the west while allied airstrikes destroyed one of Gadhafi's convoys in the east, according to rebels.

Gadhafi said the strikes were a confrontation between the Libyan people and "the new Nazis," and promised "a long-drawn war."

"You have proven to the world that you are not civilized, that you are terrorists -- animals attacking a safe nation that did nothing against you," Gadhafi said in a televised speech.

Gadhafi did not appear on screen during the address, leading CNN's Nic Robertson in Tripoli to speculate that the Libyan leader did not want to give the allies clues about his location.

At the same time Gadhafi spoke, his regime was shelling the city of Misrata on Sunday morning using tanks, artillery and cannons, a witness said.

"They are destroying the city," said the witness, who is not being identified for safety reasons. He said rebels were fighting back.

Sounds of heavy gunfire could be heard during a telephone conversation with the man. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Meanwhile, a senior doctor at the medical center in Benghazi confirmed Sunday that 95 people were killed and an unknown number injured in Saturday's assault on the city by pro-Gadhafi forces.

Doctors there also reported a shortage of supplies, especially emergency supplies. When the fighting had begun, they sent supplies to the front lines in areas like Ras Lanouf and Brega. When those cities were recaptured by Gadhafi, those supplies were lost.

On Sunday, more rebel checkpoints were noticeable throughout Benghazi, and searches there were much more diligent. While fears of an attack by pro-Gadhafi forces have decreased, the opposition does fear attacks from Gadhafi supporters among their population.

Since the assault on Saturday, most shops remain closed.

French Defense Minister Thierry Burkhard said the coalition's aim continues to be support for the civilians.

On Sunday, the French forces did not open fire at all because it was not necessary, he said. The previous day, French planes fired and hit four tanks.

Reconnaissance missions have been flying over Libya all day, he said.

The remains of a convoy of at least 70 military vehicles destroyed by multiple airstrikes Sunday, leaving at least five charred bodies, plus twisted tanks and smashed trucks as far as could be seen.

Rebels with Damon told her it was a convoy of Libyan troops loyal to Gadhafi coming to attack Benghazi.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN Sunday there would be continuous allied air cover of Benghazi.

The no-fly zone is effectively already in place, he said on CNN's "State of the Union," adding that air attacks by coalition forces have taken out most of Libya's air defense systems and some airfields.

The international military coalition targeted air defense positions near the capital, Tripoli, for a second day Sunday.

Also on Sunday, the Arab League -- whose call for a no-fly zone was an essential piece of the diplomacy leading to the United Nations resolution -- held an emergency meeting about the bombardment.

Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa told reporters before the meeting that what is happening in Libya is different from what was intended by imposing a no-fly zone, according to Egypt's state-run Ahram newspaper. .

"What we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians," Moussa said, adding that "military operations may not be needed in order to protect the civilians."

But Arab League chief of staff Hisham Youssef said Moussa's comments did not signify a shift by the organization.

"The Arab League position has not changed. We fully support the implementation of a no-fly zone," Youssef said. "Our ultimate aim is to end the bloodshed and achieve the aspirations of the Libyan people."

A spokesperson for the U.K. Foreign Office said that for the no-fly zone to be enforced, it was necessary to target Libyan air defenses.

"Unlike Gadhafi, the coalition is not attacking civilians," the spokesperson said. "All missions are meticulously planned to ensure every care is taken to avoid civilian casualties. We will continue to work with our Arab partners to enforce the resolution for the good of the Libyan people."

At least one Arab nation, Qatar, is making direct contributions to the allied airstrikes. The country made available four fighter planes, the French foreign minister said.

Some Libyans welcomed the American, French and British military forces.

Others remained fearful of Gadhafi.

Libyans are "afraid to come out because when they do, he attacked them very, very severely," a woman in Tripoli said Sunday. "This is putting terror in all neighborhoods."

The multinational military forces launched the attacks Saturday, convinced that Gadhafi was not adhering to a cease-fire mandated by the United Nations.

American and British ships and submarines fired more than 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles and hit about 20 Libyan defense targets in western portions of the country, U.S. Vice Adm. William Gortney said at a Saturday Pentagon briefing.

Nineteen U.S. warplanes, including stealth bombers and fighter jets, conducted strike operations in Libya on Sunday morning, officials said.

Tomahawk cruise missiles are unmanned and fly close to the ground, steering around natural and man-made obstacles to hit a target programmed into them before launch.

A senior U.S. military official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the cruise missiles landed near Misrata and Tripoli.

Scores of missiles were fired in the predawn darkness Sunday, and the exact results of the mission were not immediately clear. The United States is expected to conduct a damage assessment of the sites.

The salvo, in an operation dubbed "Odyssey Dawn," was meant "to deny the Libyan regime from using force against its own people," Gortney said.

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said the Royal Air Force deployed Tornado GR4 fast jets, which flew 3,000 miles from the United Kingdom and back -- making the venture the longest-range bombing mission conducted by the force since the Falklands conflict in 1982.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the international mission "is necessary, it is legal, and it is right."

"I believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people," Cameron said late Saturday night.

But Gadhafi remained defiant, saying Libya will fight back against undeserved "naked aggression." In a statement broadcast on state TV Saturday, his military said the strikes killed 48 people -- "mostly women, children and religious clerics."

"The majority of these attacks were on public areas, hospitals and schools. They frightened the children and women near those areas that were subject to this aggression," the military said. But Russia said Sunday that innocent civilians were being killed, and urged more caution.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow cited reports that "nonmilitary" targets were being bombed, including a cardiac center.

"We are calling upon respective nations to stop the indiscriminate use of force ... it is inadmissible to use the mandate resulting from U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, the adoption of which was quite a controversial step, beyond the intended goals of the resolution, namely the protection of the civilian population," the ministry said on its website.

China's foreign ministry said Sunday it did not agree with the use of force in international relations. And Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also denounced the military intervention.

"They (the United States) want to appropriate the oil in Libya; they don't care about anyone's life in that region," Chavez said.

Gadhafi vowed to open weapons depots and said the U.N. charter provides the nation the right to defend itself in a "war zone." He has also issued messages to international powers and said Libyans are ready to die for him.

Some residents said they could receive weapons to fight back.

"We received a phone call around 3 a.m. that everyone should head out in the streets," a woman in Tripoli said. "Normal civilians are being able to have machine guns and take anti-aircraft machine guns ... to fire back at the airplanes."

In Misrata, a witness said Gadhafi's forces are targeting fuel and power stations to make citizens believe the damage is being done by coalition forces. The witness, who was not identified for security reasons, said people celebrated allied airstrikes on loyalist positions in the city.

U.S. President Barack Obama is planning for the U.S. portion of the military action in Libya to last for only a few days. "After that, we'll take more of a supporting role," said a senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak about sensitive military matters.

Obama authorized U.S. military force on what happened to be the eighth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq.

In the next few days, U.S. military officials expect to hand over control to a coalition commander. Canada and Italy are also part of the coalition.

Violence has raged in Libya following protests calling for democracy and demanding an end to Gadhafi's almost 42-year-long rule. The protests have been met by force from the Gadhafi regime, and some members of his military defected to the opposition.

Another witness in Tripoli said she's terrified about how Gadhafi might respond to the airstrikes. "We're scared. We're not sure what will happen next," she said. "To be honest, I'm scared for my life."

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