Qaddafi issues threats: 'Let Libya burn'

Libya's Muammar Qaddafi spoke on a friendly TV station today and insisted the tide is about to turn in his favor.

Ismail Zitouny/Reuters/File
Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi attends a ceremony marking the birth of Islam's Prophet Mohammed in Tripoli, in this Feb. 13 file photo. Qaddafi spoke on a TV station today and insisted he will continue to fight.

As Libya's National Transitional Council continues to make plans for a future without Muammar Qaddafi, the country's all-but-deposed dictator issued a statement on the 42nd anniversary of the coup that brought him to power, insisting that surrender is not an option.

In remarks passed to the Syria-based Al Rai TV station, Qaddafi insisted he will continue to fight and that the people of Sirte and Bani Walid, two of three major towns that remain in the hands of his loyalists, are heavily armed and willing to die for for him.

"We are not women. We will keep fighting," Al Rai reported him as saying. "Let Libya burn."

In his taped remarks, he insisted that the Libyan people are fighting "colonialism," described supporters of the uprising against him as "traitors" to Libya and gave no signs of being willing to turn himself in.

But Qaddafi – who as a 28-year-old army captain led a coup against King Idris on Sept. 1, 1969 – is running out of time. This time last month Tripoli was firmly in his hands. Today, his family's palaces have been sacked by militias fighting with the NTC.

Sirte, his hometown, is surrounded by guerrillas who have cut off much of the city's power and water, and are demanding the fighters that remain inside surrender.

There are signs that he's even losing control over his family, who have issued a series of contradictory statements in recent days. His daughter Aisha and sons Hannibal and Mohammed have fled to Algeria. His son Saif al-Islam, his father's political fixer, has strongly backed calls for the supporters of the revolution to be wiped out.

Yesterday, Saif al-Islam issued a reality-challenged audio statement of his own. He insisted "victory is near" and said that he expected troops loyal to his father to soon be in Green Square, the Tripoli central plaza that has been renamed Martyr's Square by the victorious rebels.

But that statement came shortly after his brother Saadi – a former professional footballer and long-time rival of Saif's for power and influence with their father – called Al Arabiya television and said he was trying to negotiate a surrender, claiming he was speaking on his father's behalf.

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the rebel military leader in nominal command of their forces in Tripoli, told The Independent yesterday that Saadi was in talks regarding his own surrender, seeking guarantees of his personal safety.

NTC officials insist they're trying to avoid more bloodshed. Today, they extended their deadline for the surrender of Sirte to a week. They had previously said they would attack over the weekend if the holdouts there didn't surrender.

"We are not in a rush to get in to Sirte," NTC spokesman Mohammad Zawawi told Al Jazeera. "It has no economic importance, and we are not going to lose casualties for it. We can cut supplies and wait, even more than a week."

Reports trickling out of Sirte describe a desperate town. Once among Libya's richest city's, thanks to Qaddafi's favor, with large number of his tribe living there, now supplies have dwindled as the city is being squeezed by rebels to both its east and west.

It's hard to imagine a way back to power for Qaddafi now. King Idris led Libya from independence in 1951 until he was deposed in 1969, with Qaddafi promising a new socialist order that in practice became one-man rule. He has now ruled for nearly twice as long as Idris.

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