x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Qaddafi blames 'colonialists' and al Qa'eda for conflict

Britain and France have made the most aggressive calls among western powers for a no-fly zone over Libya to stop Qaddafi's troops attacking opposition forces.

TRIPOLI // Muammar Qaddafi stood firm on Wednesday, accusing the West of plotting to seize his country's oil and the insurgents of being traitors backed by al Qa'eda, as his forces pounded rebel-held areas.

"The colonialist countries are hatching a plot to humiliate the Libyan people, reduce them to slavery and control the oil," he said on state television.

Col Qaddafi addressed his remarks to the people of Zintan, 120 kilometres south-west of Tripoli, which is in rebel hands but surrounded by his own troops.

He again said al Qa'eda was behind the insurrection that began on February 15 and called on the inhabitants of Benghazi, the rebels' main base, to "liberate" the eastern city.

Col Qaddafi made similar accusations against western countries, especially France, in an interview aired by the French LCI television channel on Wednesday.

He had made a late-night appearance at a hotel used by many foreign correspondents in the Libyan capital.

Britain and France have made the most aggressive calls among western powers for a no-fly zone to stop Qaddafi's troops attacking opposition forces, and a senior UN official in New York said the Security Council had discussed the matter.

The United States says any such move would need to have full United Nations backing, which is far from assured.

Paris has also praised the national council set up by the rebels, two of whose members addressed the European Union's parliament on Tuesday asking for world recognition and a no-fly zone.

Barack Obama, the US president, and David Cameron, the British prime minister, said they would plan a "full spectrum" of action against Col Qaddafi while US officials met opposition members seeking to topple the veteran leader.

On the front line, lightly armed rebel fighters came up against fierce shelling and air attacks as they tried to advance in the east, while in the western rebel-held town of Zawiya a former official said Col Qaddafi's forces had launched a "final onslaught".

The rebels' goal of marching to Tripoli has stalled since the weekend when they failed to get past Bin Jawad, a hamlet 30 kilometres west of the oil port of Ras Lanuf, and numbers at the front appear to have decreased.

From Zawiya, just west of Tripoli, Murad Hemayma said Col Qaddafi wanted to take control of the city by Wednesday after days of siege which has seen many civilian casualties.

"Round every corner there are people shooting," he said. "The international community must do something."