Qaddafi likens Western airstrikes to 'Hitler's campaigns'

Amid London talks on Libya's future, Qaddafi shows no signs of stepping down and loyalist troops today repelled the westward advance of rebels who had gotten nearly to Sirte, Qaddafi's hometown.

Benoit Tessier/Reuters
Flight deck crew work around a Super Etendard fighter jet in preparation for a catapult launch aboard France's flagship Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier March 28. The Charles de Gaulle continues to run air sorties against targets in Libya as France participates in the NATO no fly zone.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

Libyan government loyalists on Tuesday repelled the westward advance of rebels, sapping their momentum and adding urgency to London talks on how to resolve the Libyan conflict.

Bolstered by Western airstrikes, the rebels had been moving rapidly toward Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte after retaking the key eastern city of Ajdabiya over the weekend, recapturing the oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf along the way.

But that advance stopped on Monday some 20 miles east of Sirte, where rebel forces – which have proven themselves to be disorganized and sometimes dangerously bold – ran into the defenses of the strategically important city. In a panicked retreat under fire on Tuesday, the rebels reportedly moved back to the hamlet of Bin Jawwad, just west of Ras Lanuf.

“There aren’t a lot of us in Bin Jawwad right now,” rebel Faisal Ali told the Associated Press. “If [Qaddafi] has enough firepower and forces using tanks, he will surely take over Bin Jawwad.”

Qaddafi decries 'barbaric, unjust offensive'

Pressure mounted for Col. Qaddafi to step down as UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, top US diplomat Hillary Clinton, and the Arab League and dozens of other foreign ministers joined the talks in London.

They were expected to spell out plans for a cease-fire, safe path to exile for Qaddafi – perhaps in an African country – and a proposal to discuss the future of Libya with the opposition and tribal heads.

RELATED: Libya timeline (updated daily)

But Qaddafi has shown no sign of being willing to step down or step away, after nearly 42 years at the helm in Libya.

“Stop your barbaric, unjust offensive on Libya,” Qaddafi wrote in an open letter published on the state-run news agency Jana.

“Leave Libya for the Libyans. You are committing genocide against a peaceful people and a developing nation,” Qaddafi wrote. “It seems that you in Europe and America don’t realize the hellish, barbaric [military] offensive which compares … to Hitler’s campaigns.”

Speaking late Monday, Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim added official anger to the diplomatic moves. “We call upon Obama and the Western leaders to be peacemakers and not warmongers, and not to push the Libyans towards a civil war and more death and destruction,” he said.

Obama lays out his vision

President Barack Obama said on Monday night that the US and its allies had “stopped Qaddafi’s deadly advance.”

But while Mr. Obama said the US was not pursuing “military” regime change – that was the task of the Libyan people, he said, and their weeks-old rebellion – the president noted the US would “continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people.”

Translating that vision into an anti-Qaddafi reality on the ground in Libya resulted in a surge of excited anticipation over the weekend, when rebel forces backed by allied airstrikes finally broke a stalemate at Ajdabiya.

Pro-Qaddafi forces retreated – claiming they did so in a “tactical pullback” to protect the civilians of Ajdabiya from rebel bombardment – which opened the way for the rebel sweep to push further west than they ever have.

Rebel government issues 8-point plan

Today, even as the rebels found themselves stalled at the front, the self-declared rebel government based in the eastern city of Benghazi – the Interim National Council, which has been recognized only by France and Qatar – issued an 8-point plan that it called a “vision of a democratic Libya.”

Listed there is a new constitution with a balance of power, free parties and elections, and freedom of expression. Recovered will be “social freedoms that were denied…during the rule of dictatorship.” The rebels also call for a state that “draws strength from our strong religious beliefs in peace, truth, justice and equality.”

RELATED: Libya timeline (updated daily)

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