Responding To Protests, Gadhafi Makes Bloody Appeal

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In Libya, there are reports of heavy fighting in parts of the country and joyous celebrations in others. Pro-democracy demonstrators clashed with security forces loyal to longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi near the capital. In the east however, opponents of Gadhafi claim to be gaining ground in the north African nation. Gadhafi lashed out at his opponents again today and called on Libyans to beat back the protesters.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Libya, there are reports of heavy fighting in parts of the country and joyous celebration in others. In the west near Tripoli, pro-democracy demonstrators clashed with security forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. In the east, opponents of Gadhafi claim to be gaining ground.

NPR's Jason Beaubien is following the situation from Cairo. As he tells us, today, Libya's longtime ruler once again called on his people to beat back the protestors.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Moammar Gadhafi, in a speech today, blasted the anti-government forces that are steadily grabbing control of his country. Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location over Libyan state TV, Colonel Gadhafi declared that he doesn't rule Libya, the people rule Libya. And he called on the people to arrest the vandals who he says are destroying the nation.

Colonel MOAMMAR GADHAFI (Leader, Libya): (Speaking foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: If you destroy your own country, Gadhafi said, well, that's it.

The speech veered from one topic to another. Defending his four decades in power, the strongman pointed out that Queen Elizabeth has ruled England for 57 years. He blamed the Libyan uprising on al-Qaeda and said the protesters are on drugs.

NPR received reports today of a brutal fight for control of the city of Zaouia, 30 miles west of Tripoli. A Libyan newspaper reported that 23 people were killed and 44 injured in the clashes. Gadhafi directly addressed the people of Zaouia, saying they must take the protesters' weapons away.

Col. GADHAFI: (Speaking foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: My people of Zaouia, cut the ties with your sons, Gadhafi said. Chase the criminals, bring them to court, bring back your children. They were brainwashed. Cure them of the drugs they are taking.

Gadhafi has unleashed the bloodiest response yet to the recent wave of pro-democracy protests that are sweeping the Arab world. The Libyan government puts the death toll at 300 lives over the last week. But human rights activists say the number is probably much higher.

(Soundbite of airport)

BEAUBIEN: Thousands of foreigners are attempting to flee Libya as the chaos grows. At the Cairo airport, people arriving on a flight from Tripoli say people are desperate to get out of the Libyan capital. Among them was 27-year-old Egyptian Hamda Saad(ph).

(Soundbite of airport)

Mr. HAMDA SAAD: (Speaking foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: In the airport we were afraid and we were afraid that thugs would come after us, Saad says. Returnees say that Tripoli is gripped with fear right now. Most people are staying in their houses and people who do go out are carrying pictures of Gadhafi as a form of protection. This contrasts sharply with the reports we're getting from the east of Libya. A man in the eastern city of Benghazi, who was still afraid to give his name, says people have been dancing in the streets, celebrating the ouster of Gadhafi's security forces.

(Soundbite of report)

Unidentified Man: Old people, young people, families, small children, everywhere, everyone was there.

BEAUBIEN: Libya has become the focus of the pro-democracy movement right now in the Arab world. Here in Cairo, young men and women are loading medicine, food and other supplies onto a truck bound for eastern Libya.

(Soundbite of street)

Mr. MOHAMMED ADEL (Architect): We are not donating food. We are sharing your case. We are by your side.

BEAUBIEN: Thirty-year-old Mohammed Adel, who's an architect by day, says the supplies they are sending are not nearly as important as the act of showing solidarity with the activists in Libya.

(Soundbite of street)

Mr. ADEL: This is the real message we want to send to the Libyans. This is what they really need, you know. People can survive without food, can survive without, you know, medication. They can still, you know, keep alive. But the support, you know, the spiritual, this is what they really need.

BEAUBIEN: He says they'll keep supporting their brothers in Libya until Gadhafi finally leaves.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Cairo.

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