Friday, 18 March 2011
OPEN WAR ON LIBYA: BUT GHADAFI WILL TARGET EMPIRE's TRAFFIC IN THE MED
Gaddafi threatens retaliation in Mediterranean as UN passes resolution
Gaddafi vows to 'get crazy' in event of foreign attack as UN security council in New York passes resolution
Muammar Gaddafi has pledged to retake the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and warned that any foreign attack on Libya would endanger air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean area, as the UN security council voted for military intervention.
In a defiant and menacing radio address, the Libyan leader sought to pre-empt the UN. "No more fear, no more hesitation, the moment of truth has come," he declared. "There will be no mercy. Our troops will be coming to Benghazi tonight."
The defence ministry in Tripoli issued its threat of retaliation in the Mediterranean in the apparent hope of influencing deliberations in New York that approved an assault on Libya's air defences and ground forces.
Any action by foreign forces would inevitably be portrayed by Libya as an aggressive intervention in the country's internal affairs and linked to the US bombing in 1986, a key element of the national narrative of resistance to imperialism. As the security council vote was taking place, Gaddafi called it a "flagrant act of colonisation". He told Portuguese TV: "If the world gets crazy with us, we will get crazy too. We will respond. We will make their lives hell because they are making our lives hell. They will never have peace."
The ominous statement from the defence ministry would not have been made without Gaddafi's approval. However, rebel leaders in Benghazi vowed to stand firm against any assault by Gaddafi's forces and loud bursts of celebratory gunfire were heard there last night.
The mood in Tripoli has been one of studied defiance tempered by continuing attempts to defuse the gathering crisis. The biggest banner in the capital's central Green Square proclaimed "No to foreign intervention in Libya's internal affairs" as giant loudspeakers blared out songs and slogans praising Gaddafi.
Libyan officials were alarmed on Wednesday when Russia appeared to endorse the no-fly zone idea. Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the leader's second son, said government forces would retake Benghazi within 48 hours so any international action would come too late to save the opposition.
But officials admitted privately that this statement was a tactical move designed to sow doubts about the efficacy of UN action. It seems clear that while the regime has the upper hand strategically, there is no quick or easy military way to reconquer the rebel stronghold, a city of a million people, without a bloodbath.
Gaddafi repeated an earlier offer of an amnesty for those who had taken up arms, while insisting that unarmed people would have nothing to fear. The offer of a ceasefire made earlier was immediately spurned.
State TV said government troops had taken Zueitina, an oil port on the coastal road 80 miles from Benghazi, but the rebels said they had surrounded the force. The rebels also denied a claim that government troops were on the outskirts of Benghazi.
Clashes around Ajdabiya, a strategic town and junction on the coast road, killed about 30 people earlier on Thursday, al-Arabiya TV reported. Libyan government forces displayed artillery, tanks and mobile rocket launchers – far heavier weapons than those used by the rebels – and the likely target of UN-mandated attacks.
Fighting was again reported from around Misrata, Libya's third city and a major port, despite the government's claims to have already taken it.
Fireworks were set off in Green Square in a continuing celebration of the military victories of recent days.
Earlier in the day, themes from Arab and Islamic history were invoked by pupils from the Khalid bin al-Walid school who had decorated a placard with the Qur'anic injunction "Sedition (fitna) is worse than killing" – a lightly coded reference to the sins of the anti-Gaddafi forces.
Despite the regime's strenuous attempts to lay down a uniform line and control visiting journalists, some Libyans are not buying the official story. "Things look very bad," said Abu Salah, a former government employee who drives a taxi. "The rebels don't want Gaddafi and he won't go. I was pessimistic before this crisis began – and yes, it's a crisis. Some people thought Saif al-Islam would bring change. But he's no better than his father. We need dialogue, not killing."
State media, however, have been turning up the volume in a crescendo of bile, fury and condemnation of the opposition. Treachery, conspiracy, rats, agents of imperialism, colonialism, lies and al-Qaida – this is the vocabulary of the propaganda war being waged in the Libyan media.
In Thursday's al-Zahaf al-Akhdar (The Green Page), a cartoon on the back page excoriated al-Jazeera, its Saudi rival al-Arabiya and the BBC, decrying their "false" or "biased" coverage. Al-Jazeera was the subject of an entire page of invective in Wednesday's al-Fajr al-Jadid (The New Dawn) and described as an outpost of Israel's Mossad. The broadcaster's owner, the "corrupt Zionist" emir of Qatar, was condemned for supporting Libya's rebels.
Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular preacher who appears regularly on al-Jazeera, has been vilified for issuing a fatwa authorising Libyan security forces to assassinate Gaddafi.
In the past few days the media focus has been on key tribes pledging loyalty to Gaddafi and a flood of telegrams offering support and solidarity. TV showed schoolgirls in Sirte, the leader's home town, taking turns to sing his praises and kiss his picture, the more confident ones ululating energetically for good measure.
Thursday's edition of Al-Jamahiriya devoted two full pages to Gaddafi's rambling message to one of the many delegations which have visited him at the Bab al-Aziziya barracks in Tripoli. Other papers ran shorter versions, but all used the identical headline: "Libyan unity or death!"