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Libya struggles to quell spreading revolt

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Gadhafi appears on Libyan TV
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to meet on Libya on Tuesday
  • Witness says troops fired "indiscriminately" at protesters
  • Gadhafi says he's still in Tripoli
  • Eastern Libya appears under opposition control

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(CNN) -- Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi made a brief television appearance early Tuesday to announce that he was still in charge, denying reports that he had fled the country in the face of a spreading revolt.

Speaking to a state television reporter in front of his Tripoli home, Gadhafi said he wanted to show people "that I am in Tripoli, not in Venezuela. Don't believe those dogs in the media."

His 40-second appearance came after his government unleashed warplanes and helicopter gunships Monday in an attempt to bottle up the revolt that captured Benghazi, the country's second-largest city, over the weekend. Witnesses said the aircraft were attacking anti-government demonstrators around Tripoli, the capital.

Libya's government denied it was turning its air force against civilians. Gadhafi's son, Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi, told the state news agency Al-Jamahirya the warplanes were targeting weapons depots in remote areas.

But one witness, who agreed to be identified only as "Adam," said helicopters landed troops "armed to the teeth" in Tripoli's Green Square on Monday to scatter anti-government protesters with automatic weapons and grenades.

"They have been using aerial tactics, along with men on the ground, to disperse and shoot indiscriminately into crowds," he said. The force included both government troops and mercenaries working for Gadhafi, he said. But residents were responding by barricading themselves in their homes and setting up makeshift checkpoints to keep cars full of gunmen out of their neighborhoods.

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In eastern Libya, groups of men in armed civilian clothing were guarding the streets, and opposition leaders appeared to be in firm control, CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman reported. Wedeman is the first Western television correspondent to enter and report from Libya during the crisis.

Read what Wedeman witnessed in eastern Libya

Residents said hundreds of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa had been killed or captured while fighting for Gadhafi, but much of the army appears to have gone over to anti-government forces. Many businesses were open Monday, allowing some semblance of normal life in the midst of the revolt.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi's regime faced defections from prominent officials who declared their solidarity with the Libyan people.

Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul Jalil resigned, saying he was protesting the "bloody situation" and "use of excessive force" against unarmed protesters, according to the Libyan newspaper Quryna. And Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations called the crackdown "genocide," adding, "The mass killing has reached a stage where no one can stay silent about it."

"Whenever people are getting to the streets, whenever they are demonstrating peacefully, the army and militias are shooting at them," the diplomat, Ibrahim Dabbashi, told CNN on Monday. But Gadhafi "cannot survive" this uprising, Dabbashi said.

"The Libyan people are determined to get rid of him. It's a matter of time. I don't know how long it will last, but it will be soon," he said.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a Tuesday morning meeting on Libya at Dabbashi's request, the first time the council has held consultations over any of the revolts that have swept the Arab world since January.

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...whenever they are demonstrating peacefully, the army and militias are shooting at them
--Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy ambassador to the U.N.

CNN could not immediately confirm reports for most areas beyond Benghazi. The Libyan government maintains tight control on communications and has not responded to repeated requests for access to the country, though CNN has interviewed numerous witnesses by phone.

Libyan state television reported that government security forces were demanding citizens' cooperation. It showed a crowd in Green Square chanting pro-government slogans and holding a sign supporting the regime.

But a woman in Tripoli reported that warplanes and helicopters were attacking parts of the capital, and armed men in cars were firing at anyone on the streets. The leader of an opposition movement told CNN that helicopter gunships were firing into crowds, and two Libyan pilots defected to Malta after being asked to bomb Libyan citizens, a Maltese government source said.

The defecting pilots' French-built Mirage F1 jets were armed with rockets and loaded machine guns when they landed in Malta, the Maltese source said.

Video posted on YouTube showed what CNN was told were the charred remains of six Libyan troops in open body bags. Opposition sources in Libya say the dead were soldiers who refused to shoot at anti-government demonstrators.

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The minute-long video was captured on a mobile phone camera and posted on Monday, but it was not clear when it was taken. It depicts a crowd gathered around the bodies, which were burned beyond recognition, and the opposition sources said many more bodies were found in an adjacent military barracks.

Citing hospital sources, Human Rights Watch said Monday that at least 233 people had been killed in the past week of upheaval. CNN has been in communication with medics and witnesses in Libya, whose accounts appear to corroborate the Human Rights Watch report, but Dabbashi said the toll could be as high as 800.

Libya is the latest Arab nation to fall into turmoil since January's ouster of Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Similar protests toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 12 and have spread across the region from Morocco to Bahrain.

Gadhafi has ruled Libya since a 1969 coup d'etat, but questions about his whereabouts swirled Monday after his son delivered a televised address on the crisis. In that speech, the younger Gadhafi acknowledged that protesters had seized heavy weapons from government troops in Benghazi and that the country faced a civil war that could smash it to pieces and release "rivers of blood."

"We have a very dangerous decision to make," said Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, the country's "general coordinator" and one of his father's top lieutenants. "We are all the same, we all have weapons, we are all Libyans, and this is our country, our homeland."

U.N. General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon "had an extensive discussion" with the Libyan leader Monday, the United Nations said.

Read about Ban's contact with regional leaders

Ban "expressed deep concern at the escalating scale of violence and emphasized that it must stop immediately," a U.N. spokesman said. "He reiterated his call for respect for basic freedoms and human rights, including peaceful assembly and information," the spokesman said, and Ban "underlined the need to ensure the protection of the civilian population under any circumstances."

Quryna, a traditionally pro-government organ that did not mention the protests when they began last week, reported that African mercenaries had opened fire on unarmed civilians in Tajouraa, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Tripoli. A Quryna reporter also said snipers had shot an unarmed woman in the same area.

In Tripoli, a woman who asked not to be identified reported seeing violence in the streets. "I've seen myself red Hyundai cars with tinted windows that had armed people inside it shooting random people," she told CNN in a telephone interview. "Three victims have fallen in the street where I live."

During a meeting with EU ambassadors in Tripoli, Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi blamed the upheaval on "terrorists and destructive plans" and stressed that Libya has the right to "take any measures" to protect its unity, stability, people and resources, Libyan state television reported.

The Arab League will hold an urgent summit Tuesday to discuss Libya, Egypt's official news agency MENA reported Monday, and Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa called for an end to the violence. He criticized the younger Gadhafi's assertion during a speech early Monday that Tunisians and Egyptians were to blame for Libya's revolt, saying demands for reform, development and change were the "legitimate rights" of the Arab people.

In Washington, the United States condemned the violence and called for a halt to the "unacceptable bloodshed" in response to civil unrest, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

Read more about the U.S. response to the Libyan crisis

"The government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of the people, including the right to free expression and assembly," Clinton's statement said.

CNN's Richard Roth, Ben Brumfield, Amir Ahmed, Eve Bower and Salma Abdelaziz and journalist Natalino Fenech contributed to this report.

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