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Libya’s Gaddafi vows to fight to the ‘last man and last woman’
TRIPOLI, Mar 2 (Agencies):
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Published on 2 Mar. 2011 10:17 PM IST
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Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the “last man and last woman” to defend his country.
Gaddafi was addressing supporters and foreign media on Wednesday in a conference hall in the capital Tripoli as his forces were launching a counteroffensive against parts of the rebel-held eastern half of the country.
“We will fight until the last man and woman. We will defend Libya from the north to the south,” he said.
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi battled government opponents for control of a key oil installation and an airstrip Wednesday on the Mediterranean coast in a counter-offensive against the rebel-held eastern half of the country.
The fighting at the Brega oil port appeared to be the first significant attempt by Gaddafi’s regime to push back against the large swath of territory - almost the entire eastern half of the country - seized by the oppposition. For the past week, pro-Gaddafi forces have been focusing on securing his stronghold in the capital Tripoli and trying with mixed success to take back nearby rebel-held cities in the west.
In the capital, Gaddafi repeated claims that al-Qaida is behind the uprising, telling a gathering of supporters that a “sleeper cell” launched the protests.
Opposition members said they believe Gaddafi was pulling up reinforcements from bases deep in the deserts of southwestern Libya, flying them to the fronts on the coast.
Soon after sunrise Wednesday, a large force of Gaddafi loyalists in around 50 SUVS, some mounted with machine guns, descended on Brega, catching the small opposition contingent guarding the site by surprise, said Ahmed Dawas, an anti-Gaddafi fighter at a checkpoint outside the port.
The opposition fighters fled, and regime warplanes hit an ammunition depot on the outskirts of the nearby rebel-held city of Ajdabiya, witnesses said. The forces seized the port, airstrip and the oil facilities where about 4,000 personnel work.
But by mid-morning, the opposition counter-attacked. Anti-Gaddafi fighters with automatic weapons were seen speeding out of Ajdabiya in pick-up trucks, heading for Brega, 40 miles away (70 kilometers) away. Dawas said they retook the oil facilities and airstrip. Other witnesses reported regime forces were surrounded by rebels.
The sound of screaming warplanes and the crackle of heavy gunfire could be heard as the witnesses spoke to The Associated Press by phone.The repositioning of U.S. ships and aircraft closer to Libya is widely seen as a symbolic show of force since neither the United States nor its NATO allies have shown any appetite for direct military intervention in the turmoil that has seen Gaddafi lose control of large swaths of his country.
“We are looking at a lot of options and contingencies. No decisions have been made on any other actions,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, noting the United Nations had not authorised the use of force in Libya.
Italy said it was sending a humanitarian mission to Tunisia to provide food and medical aid to as many as 10,000 people who had fled violence in Libya on its eastern border.
Tunisian border guards fired into the air on Tuesday to try to control a desperate crowd clamouring to cross the frontier.
About 70,000 people have passed through the Ras Jdir border post in the past two weeks, and many more of the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in Libya are expected to follow.

 
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