‘Delusional’ Gaddafi insists Libya loves him

2011-03-01 07:25

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi insisted his people loved him but was slammed as “delusional” as the United States slapped a record-breaking $30 billion (R210 billion) in sanctions on his brutal regime.

US and European leaders weighed the use of NATO air power to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and stop Gaddafi from using air strikes against his own people, as the strongman fights a bloody rearguard action against encroaching rebels.

Anger at authoritarian Arab regimes in the Middle East and North Africa raged from Algeria to Yemen and has spread to the previously unaffected Gulf states of Djibouti, Kuwait and Oman.

Interim regimes in Egypt and Tunisia felt renewed pressure from protesters impatient for real democratic change, while Iran denied reports that it had imprisoned key opposition leaders.

Fears grew over the humanitarian fallout after more than six weeks of turmoil as the United Nations stepped up warnings of a mass exodus from Libya. More than 100 000 people have already fled into Egypt and Tunisia.

The United States said it had blocked around $30 billion in Libyan assets, the largest amount ever frozen, while the European Union also imposed its toughest international sanctions yet on Gaddafi’s crumbling regime.

Gaddafi was unrepentant, although his regime now controls only some western areas around the capital and a few long-time bastions in the arid south. Key oil fields in the east have fallen to the opposition.

“They love me all. They would die to protect me,” he said in an interview with Western journalists in Tripoli yesterday, laughing off suggestions that he might leave Libya as the White House aired the prospect of exile for him.

US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the interview showed “how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is from reality”.

“It sounds just frankly delusional, when he can talk and laugh to an American and (an) international journalist while he is slaughtering his own people,” Rice said.

The United States moved naval and air forces into position around Libya. Britain said it was working with its allies on a military no-fly zone over Libya, while stressing the logistical and diplomatic difficulties.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied that military action was imminent but said Gaddafi should quit power “now”.

Forces loyal to Gaddafi on Monday attacked the town of Misrata, 150 kilometres east of Tripoli, and killed two people, a witness said. Rights groups say at least 1 000 people have now been killed in Libya.

In Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council, Clinton also said that backing peaceful political transitions was not just a matter of ideals but a “strategic imperative” for the West.

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