February 24, 2011


[The U.S. State Department, citing conversations with Libyan officials, said some members of news organizations CNN, BBC Arabic and al-Arabiya would be allowed into the country, but any reporters who have entered Libya without government permission would be considered al-Qaeda "collaborators."]

By Leila Fadel, Liz Sly and Ernesto Londoño

BAIDA, LIBYA - Moammar Gaddafi blamed the revolt in his country on Osama Bin Laden, in what came across as a desperate plea to citizens Thursday to abandon their 10-day-old rebellion.

The revolt seemed to be closing in on the capital, with most of the eastern part of the country controlled by protestors and signs that demonstrations also were spreading in the west.

In a rambling phone call to Libyan state television, Gaddafi, 68, said young protesters were under the influence of hallucinogenic pills given to them "in their coffee with milk, like Nescafe."

Gaddafi referred repeatedly to the town of Zawiya, just 30 miles west of Tripoli, which had earlier in the day been the scene of fierce clashes between pro-government forces and anti-government rebels.

According to a doctor quoted by AP, at least 10 people died in Zawiya when army units and militia fighters loyal to Gaddafi fired at a mosque in which protestors were staging a sit-in. The doctor said at least 150 had been injured.

After rambling about drugs, al Qaeda and "youth" for nearly half an hour, Gaddafi told citizens that they would have to choose between stability and chaos, between Bin Laden and Gaddafi.

"What do you have to do with Bin Laden, people of Zawiya?" Gaddafi said. "I insist it is Bin Laden."

He speculated that the United States could invade Libya if the rebellion does not stop.

"Please do not disappoint me," Gaddafi warned, "otherwise each will take justice into his own hands to rid us of this darkness."
Earlier Thursday, Gaddafi's son appeared on state television and denied that Libya has killed large numbers of protesters through airstrikes and other attacks. A former top government official, meanwhile, appeared on television in Cairo and said he had quit to protest the violent crackdown.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Gaddafi's son, disputed the death tolls that have have been reported since protests began, saying allegations that hundreds have been killed are a "joke."

"Tripoli is quiet," he said. "Life is normal."

The younger Gaddafi said Libya intends to provide Western journalists access to Tripoli, the capital, and other cities, so they can corroborate the government's claim that it remains in control.

The U.S. State Department, citing conversations with Libyan officials, said some members of news organizations CNN, BBC Arabic and al-Arabiya would be allowed into the country, but any reporters who have entered Libya without government permission would be considered al-Qaeda "collaborators."

"The Libyan government said that it was not responsible for the safety of these journalists, who risked immediate arrest on the full range of possible immigration charges," the State Department warning said.

Libya appears dangerously fractured. The longtime ruler has tightened his grip on the capital, witnesses say, by flooding the streets with militiamen and loyalist troopswho were reportedly roaming the streets and shooting opponents from SUVs.

At the same time, rebels have consolidated their control of key eastern cities and continued advancing west across the coastal strip, where most of the country's population is clustered. The opposition has called for a large protest Friday.

In Zawiya, soldiers opened fire with automatic weapons and hit the mosque's minaret with anti-aircraft missiles, a witness told AP. Some of the young men among the protesters had hunting rifles, the witness said. A day earlier, he added, an envoy from Gaddafi had come to the city and warned protesters, "Either leave or you will see a massacre."

"What is happening is horrible, those who attacked us are not the mercenaries; they are sons of our country," the witness said, sobbing. After the assault, thousands massed in the city's main Martyrs Square, shouting "leave, leave," in reference to Gaddafi, he said.

Another attack came at a small airport outside Misurata, Libya's third-largest city, AP reported. Militiamen attacked a line of residents who were protecting the facility, opening fire with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

"They left piles of human remains and a swamp of blood," a resident who saw the attack told AP. "The hospitals are packed with those killed and injured."

In Cairo, a cousin and close adviser to Gaddafi said he had defected from the regime to protest its crackdown on the uprising, AP reported. Gaddaf al-Dam, who arrived in Egypt several days ago, is a member of the Libyan leader's inner circle, handling Libyan-Egyptian relations.

Dam said in an interview that the crackdown has involved "grave violations to human rights and human and international laws," AP reported. He said he left Libya "in protest and to show disagreement."

Oil prices hit $100 a barrel Wednesday because of the turmoil in the North African oil exporter, a peak not reached since 2008. In Washington and other capitals, attention turned to the possible responses to the crackdown, including economic sanctions or imposition of a no-flight zone over Libya to prevent the use of aircraft against civilians.

In Washington, President Obama said the United States was developing a "full range of options" and would intensify discussions with other nations to address the violent unraveling of Gaddafi's regime.

"The suffering and bloodshed are outrageous and unacceptable," Obama said.

The independent organization Human Rights Watch has estimated that 300 people have been killed in a week of clashes, although some Libyan opposition groups and Western diplomats have said that they fear the figure may be much larger.

A 600-passenger ferry chartered by the U.S. government has been in Libya since Wednesday to evacuate U.S. citizens to the nearby island of Malta, but its departure has been delayed.

fadell@washpost.com slyl@washpost.com londonoe@washpost.com

Sly and Londono reported from Cairo. Correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan in Sanaa, Yemen and staff writers Howard Schneider and Debbi Wilgoren in Washington contributed to this report.

@ The Washington Post