NATO bombs Tripoli, sending Khadafy into rage
TRIPOLI, Libya — Provoked by renewed daylight NATO bombing of his capital, Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy raged against the alliance yesterday, screaming his message and daring Western forces to keep it up.
Khadafy spoke in a telephone call that was piped through loudspeakers to a few thousand people demonstrating in Tripoli’s Green Square at the end of a day when NATO intensified bombing runs across the capital. State television carried the Khadafy message live, then repeated it a few minutes later.
“NATO will be defeated,’’ he yelled in a hoarse, agitated voice. “They will pull out in defeat.’’
The sound of automatic weapons being fired defiantly into the air echoed through the square for hours as carloads of pro-Khadafy supporters, many with children in tow, crammed the streets leading to the plaza.
Although there was a large presence of police and soldiers in the square, many of those who were shooting wore civilian clothes.
Protesters and foreign journalists in the capital said it was one of the biggest such demonstrations since airstrikes began.
“Everyone in Libya wants Colonel Khadafy, not some traitors,’’ Rajab Hamman, a 51-year-old engineer from Tripoli, said in the square as another demonstrator shot a magazine load from an automatic rifle into the air a few steps away. “These are the real, true Libyans,’’ he said of the crowd.
East of Tripoli, Khadafy’s forces exchanged intense shelling with rebels who are slowly breaking the government siege on their western stronghold, the port city of Misurata.
Doctors at the Hikma hospital in Misurata said nine rebel fighters and a woman living near the battle were killed and 30 others were wounded. Government casualties were not known.
Barrages of artillery and Grad missiles were landing on rebel lines as they continued trying to advance out of Misurata, 125 miles east of the capital. The heaviest shelling rained down between the towns of Dafniya and Zlitan, west of the Mediterranean port. Rebels were holding their own with return fire from their front about 20 miles west of the port.
For weeks rebels had been bottled up in Misurata, one of a handful of toeholds they hold in western Libya. The eastern third of the country is under rebel control, from their de facto capital, Benghazi.
As NATO warplanes began stepping up attacks on Libyan government forces, bases, and ammunition depots in recent days, the rebels in Misurata used the distraction to start their push out of the city toward Tripoli.
Fighting has been intense along that front, with the rebels able to advance only about 20 miles.
NATO attacked the Libyan capital at midday yesterday, pounding a target in the south of the city and sending a thick cloud of black smoke rising high into the air.
A series of explosions rumbled across other parts of the city as fighter jets could be heard flying overhead. Fire engines raced through the streets, sirens blaring.
It was not clear what was hit or whether there were casualties. Yesterday is the main day of rest in Libya, with many people off work.
NATO has been ramping up the pressure on Khadafy’s regime. Though most airstrikes happen under cover of darkness, daytime raids have grown more frequent.
Yesterday’s raids followed a barrage that struck multiple targets late Thursday night.
As the new airstrikes blasted the capital yesterday, NATO Wing Commander Mike Bracken said Khadafy’s future at the helm of Libya was what he called a “political decision.’’ Bracken spoke by video conference to reporters in Brussels, NATO headquarters.