Libya: Gaddafi blames Osama Bin Laden for protests

Col Muammar Gaddafi: ''You should not listen to Bin Laden and his followers''

Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi has told state TV that Osama Bin Laden and his followers are to blame for the protests racking his country.

In a phone call addressed to residents of the town of al-Zawiya, Col Gaddafi said young people were being duped with drugs and alcohol to take part in "destruction and sabotage".

Col Gaddafi is battling to shore up control of Tripoli and western areas.

Protesters have been consolidating gains in cities in the east.

Opposition politicians and tribal leaders have held a key meeting in the eastern town of al-Bayda to show a united front against Col Gaddafi.

'This is your country'

The telephone call addressed al-Zawiya, 50km (30 miles) west of the capital, where fighting now appears to be the most fierce.

Col Gaddafi said the protesters had no genuine demands and were being dictated to by the al-Qaeda leader.

Map

"Bin Laden... this is the enemy who is manipulating people. Do not be swayed by Bin Laden," he said.

"It is obvious now that this issue is run by al-Qaeda. Those armed youngsters, our children, are incited by people who are wanted by America and the Western world.

At the scene

The northern Libyan city of Benghazi is the beginning and crux of the revolt against Col Muammar Gaddafi.

When local people there came out to protest last week, they were fired on from a huge army base in the centre of the city with heavy artillery, including anti-aircraft guns.

In response, they simply took on the army, with homemade petrol bombs.

They loaded construction site vehicles with petrol and rammed them against the walls of the barracks, and ground down the troops inside.

After two or three days of bitter fighting - with the aid of some defection from the government side - they took the base, defeating some of the country's most elite forces.

It is now a kind of local tourist attraction, people are wandering around looking at what was inside.

"Those inciting are very few in numbers and we have to capture them."

He said the young protesters were "trigger happy and they shoot especially when they are stoned with drugs".

He said that Libya was not like Egypt and Tunisia, which have seen their leaders deposed, because the people of Libya had it in their own hands to change their lives through committees.

"This is your country and it is up to you how to deal with it," he said.

Calling the situation in al-Zawiya a "farce", he urged families to rein in their sons, saying many of the protesters were underage and beyond the reach of the law.

But he also vowed that those carrying out violent protests should be put on trial.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says blaming al-Qaeda is a cheap shot as the whole international jihadist movement has been left largely sidelined by the current popular uprisings across the Middle East, in which religion has played almost no part.

This was Col Gaddafi's second live TV appearance since the protests erupted on 15 February.

On Tuesday he said he would die a martyr in Libya and fight to the "last drop" of his blood. The latest broadcast was a lot shorter - about 20 minutes compared with 75 minutes on Tuesday.

Heavy gunfire has been reported in al-Zawiya and there are reports of a police station on fire.

Help for UK nationals

  • The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Libya
  • UK nationals in Libya wishing to get on the charter flight are advised to call the following numbers:
  • 020 7008 0000 from the UK or 021 3403644/45 from within Libya

One civilian leaving through the Tunisian border told Reuters: "It is chaotic there. There are people with guns and swords."

An eyewitness told Associated Press that soldiers had opened fire on protesters holed up in the city's Souq Mosque, while a doctor at a field clinic told AP he had seen 10 bodies and 150 wounded people.

Information from Libya remains difficult to verify and many reports cannot be independently confirmed.

Zuara, 120km west of Tripoli, was said to be in the hands of anti-government militias and defence committees of civilians, with no sign of police.

Fighting is reported between pro- and anti-government forces in Misrata, Libya's third-biggest city, 200km east of Tripoli.

Pro-Gaddafi forces are said to have also launched attacks in Sabratha and Sabha.

But Tripoli, under government control, and cities in the east, held by the protesters, are generally said to be calm.

In Benghazi, protesters were building defences against a possible counterattack by pro-Gaddafi forces. The BBC's Jon Leyne there says that more than 400 died in the battle for the city.

Oil prices climb

Opposition tribal leaders and politicians met in al-Bayda in the east to demonstrate a united front against Col Gaddafi in one of the first signs of organisation for a bigger fight against the government.

Pictures broadcast by al-Jazeera showed delegates giving speeches in a conference hall, amid loud chants against Col Gaddafi.

Former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who recently resigned in protest at the violence against anti-government demonstrators, said there would be no talks with the Libyan leader and called for him to step down immediately.

The Libyan ambassador to Jordan has now become the latest senior official to resign his post in response to the situation in his country.

Switzerland has announced it is freezing assets that may belong to Col Gaddafi and his family.

The total number of deaths has been impossible to determine. Human Rights Watch says it has confirmed nearly 300 deaths, but the International Federation for Human Rights says at least 700 people have been killed, while Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said estimates of 1,000 dead were "credible".

Masses of foreigners are still struggling to leave Libya with the situation at Tripoli airport described as mayhem.

Briton Helena Sheehan, arriving back in London, said: "The airport is like nothing I've ever seen in my whole life. It's absolute chaos. There's just thousands and thousands of people trying to get out."

Bad weather has hampered some sea evacuations - a ferry scheduled to carry hundreds of Americans and other nationalities to Malta is still stuck in Tripoli.

Oil prices have hit their highest levels in two-and-a-half years.

Brent crude hit $119.79 (£74.08) a barrel in early Thursday trade, before falling back to $115.04.

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