Libya's Gaddafi denies fleeing as cities overrun

Muammar Gaddafi
Tripoli, Feb 22: Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi denied he had fled his country after protesters overran several cities, as his four-decade rule was under assault amid claims of a massacre in Tripoli.

"I am going to meet with the youth in Green Square," in downtown Tripoli, he said Monday, in what state television reported was a live broadcast from the strongman's home.

"It's just to prove that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela and to deny television reports, those dogs," he said, holding up an umbrella in pouring rain while about to step into a car. Rain lashed Tripoli yesterday evening.

It was the Libyan strongman's first comments -apparently to scotch rumours he had fled to Venezuela -since protests erupted last Tuesday in the east of the oil-rich north African nation he has ruled for 41 years.

After days of unrest, the uprising has now spread to the Libyan capital, with gunfire rattling Tripoli. Protesters attacked police stations and the offices of the state broadcaster, Gaddafi's mouthpiece, and set government buildings ablaze.

Residents of two districts in Tripoli told in Cairo by telephone there had been "a massacre," with gunmen "firing indiscriminately" in Tajura district.

Another in Fashlum said helicopters had landed what he called African mercenaries who opened fire on anyone in the street, causing a large number of deaths.

"It's definitely the end of the regime. This has never happened in Libya before. We are praying that it ends quickly," one resident of east Tripoli told in Cairo by telephone.

International concern at the crackdown on the unprecedented unrest rocking Libya is growing as events unfold with human rights group putting the death toll at between over 200 to some 400 people.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the world was "watching the situation in Libya with alarm."

"We join the international community in strongly condemning the violence in Libya," she said in a written statement. "Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "outraged" by reports that Libyan security forces had fired on demonstrators from war planes and helicopters.

Saying Ban wanted Gaddafi to "immediately" halt violence. Martin Nesirky said, "Such attacks against civilians, if confirmed, would constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law and would be condemned by the secretary-general in the strongest terms."


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