Libya unrest: Rebels fight off Gaddafi attack

Anti-Gaddafi protesters on road to Brega, 2 Mar Anti-Gaddafi protesters celebrate on the road to Brega

Rebel forces have fought off an attempt by soldiers loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi to retake the eastern oil town of Brega.

Gaddafi forces had moved into eastern areas for the first time since towns there fell to protesters two weeks ago.

The BBC's John Simpson in Brega says it is clear of loyalist troops.

Earlier Col Gaddafi said on TV he would "fight until the last man and woman" and warned that thousands of Libyans would die if Western forces intervened.

Our correspondent has been to Brega's seashore and university, where the heaviest fighting took place, and they appear entirely clear of pro-Gaddafi troops.

He says a senior rebel officer had suggested the Gaddafi troops might have run out of ammunition and been forced to withdraw.

The excited rebels appeared very proud of what they had achieved, our correspondent says, and the feeling in the town is that Col Gaddafi's men do not necessarily have their hearts in the job.

Libya map

Firing could still be heard but our correspondent was assured it was just victory shots.

A Libyan air force plane did recently drop one bomb nearby, he says, but the attempt by Col Gaddafi to move on the eastern rebel-held areas appears for now to have been repulsed and, although this is by no means a final victory, it is an important setback for the Libyan leader.

The government forces had taken an oil facility at Brega at dawn but rebels later said they had struck back.

Col Gaddafi: 'Libyan people responsible for administering power'

Rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani accused Col Gaddafi of "trying to create all kinds of psychological warfare to keep these cities on edge".

Medical sources in Brega told BBC Arabic that 14 people had been killed in the fighting.

Our correspondent says an airforce plane had earlier tried to bomb the vast weapons dump on the outskirt of Ajdabiya 50km (30 miles) from Brega.

He says most people in Ajdabiya probably assumed at that point that Col Gaddafi's forces were on their way and that there was little between them and the rebel capital Benghazi 100 miles away. But volunteers came pouring in from Benghazi and Ajdabiya.

'False reports'

In his speech broadcast on Libyan TV in a large hall in Tripoli, Col Gaddafi warned against any foreign intervention.

At the scene

Col Gaddafi's speech lasted a little more than three hours. His first big round of applause came when he told them it was becoming increasingly clear that Libya's troubles came from a foreign plot.

A woman stood up and told him he was the sword of god and could not leave. He reminded them that since he has no formal position he cannot resign. The speech was not all defiance, he also offered an amnesty, called for a dialogue with Libyan intellectuals and a fact-finding mission from the UN.

Col Gaddafi was composed and confident. He seems now to have a strategy to deal with the uprising. Pushing back with what armed force he can muster into rebel-held areas and telling Libyans and his foreign critics that if he goes Libya will face chaos and a failed state dominated by al-Qaeda.

"We will not accept [an] American intervention. This will lead to a bloody war and thousands of Libyans will die if America and Nato enter Libya."

He said the UN had passed resolutions condemning Libya based on "false reports" and he challenged the UN to investigate.

"We urge the world, the United Nations, to see where the people were killed, to send a fact-finding team."

He condemned those countries that had frozen Libyan assets, saying: "The assets are the assets of the Libyan nation... I am the asset of Libya, not the American dollar."

Col Gaddafi spoke as a crowd of supporters and officials chanted the slogan: "God, Muammar and Libya."

The Libyan leader said he was "surprised" that his name had been mentioned abroad since he had handed over power "to the people" in 1977, eight years after taking power and there were no positions he could resign from.

He said he had been told that "hostile radios" outside Libya were focusing on him.

In an attempt to explain recent unrest, he said "shady members of al-Qaeda" had formed "dormant cells" in several cities.

Hafeez Ghoga, new Benghazi National Council: "We're trying to build an army from scratch"

But he said there had been no violence at demonstrations in Libya.

In two weeks of unrest, Col Gaddafi has lost control of large parts of Libya.

The violence has led to a major humanitarian crisis on the Tunisian border, with tens of thousands of foreigners, most of them Egyptian, stranded and unable to get home.

Some 75,000 people have fled to Tunisia since unrest began and 40,000 more are waiting to cross, the UN says.

Britain, France, Spain and other countries on Wednesday launched emergency airlifts to evacuate those gathered at the border.

The World Food Programme announced a $38.7m aid programme for the 2.7 million people it says are engulfed in the Libyan crisis.

Libya and the West

Telegraph headline
Libya was an Italian colony before World War II. It gained independence in 1951 under the leadership of King Idris. Oil was discovered in 1959.
Telegraph headline
In 1969, a group of officers led by Muammar al-Gaddafi staged a bloodless coup while King Idris was in Turkey for medical treatment.
Telegraph headline
Gaddafi's relations with the West were strained. US President Carter's administration declared Libya a state sponsor of terrorism in 1979.
Telegraph headline
In 1986 the US bombed Gaddafi's residence killing his adopted daughter after two US soldiers died in a Libyan-backed blast at a Berlin nightclub.
Telegraph headline
The US also imposed sanctions on Libya in 1986. Then, in 1988, Libya was implicated in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland.
Telegraph headline
Relations began to improve in 1999 when Libya handed over two men to be tried for the Lockerbie bombing, one of whom was found guilty.
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In 2006 Libya was dropped from the US state sponsors of terror list. Western leaders flocked to visit the country and set up business links.
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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he believes about 1,000 people have so far died in the violence.

The UN has suspended Libya from its Human Rights Council, accusing it of committing gross and systematic violations of human rights.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said on Wednesday he was formally opening an investigation into crimes against humanity in Libya.

Debate is also continuing in the international community over imposing a no-fly zone to curb the Libyan air force.

Protesters have called for the zone, fearing air attacks on the towns they have won.

UK PM David Cameron on Tuesday insisted it was right to be looking at plans for the zone.

The Arab League said it would consider imposing the no-fly zone in coordination with the African Union.

But US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said this would be a big operation that would need "an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences".

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