Tripoli – Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi early on Monday predicted a swift end for “the rats” and the “coloniser”, referring to the rebels and Nato, in an audio message on Libyan television extracts of which were published by Libyan news agency JANA.
“The end of the coloniser is close and the end of the rats is close. They [the rebels] flee from one house to another before the masses who are chasing them,” Gaddafi declared in what the television said was a “live” broadcast.
“The coloniser and its agents can now only resort to lies and psychological warfare after all the wars with all the weapons have failed,” Gaddafi said as rumours circulated on Twitter and in certain media about his imminent departure into exile.
Much of the message, his first in several weeks, was inaudible due to a “technical breakdown”, according to the television station.
The veteran leader called on his supporters to resist and to “prepare for the battle to liberate” the towns held by the rebels, as the insurgents said they had advanced in western towns including Zawiyah, Sorman and Gharyan.
The television broadcast “live” images of the Green Square in the heart of Tripoli where hundreds of backers of the regime were assembled brandishing portraits of the “guide” and green Libyan flags.
Government spokesperson Mussa Ibrahim meanwhile said the regime’s armed forces were capable of retaking the towns and districts where the rebels have made advances in recent days.
Hundreds of volunteers
“Our mujahedin forces are capable of exterminating these gangs,” he told a news conference reserved for the local press.
Quoted by JANA, Ibrahim added that pro-Gaddafi forces had Sunday repulsed a new rebel offensive on Zawiyah.
Rebels had on Saturday entered the town 40km west of Tripoli, but the regime played down the importance of the attack which Ibrahim said was carried out by a few dozen fighters.
South of the rebel town of Misrata 200km east of the capital, the rebels had consolidated their positions in Tuarga after taking control of it on Friday and where they said they faced only some pockets of resistance.
But Ibrahim said pro-Gaddafi forces had “retaken control of the town and killed most of those from the Misrata-based gangs who advanced on Tuarga.”
The government spokesperson admitted that the rebels had entered the town of Gharyan in the Djebel Nefussa region “in order to spread terror … but there is no need for concern.” Government forces would, he said, take back the town “in the next few hours”.
Ibrahim also acknowledged “problems” in Sorman 70km west of Tripoli, where “clashes” were taking place. But “hundreds of volunteers” backed by the army were “handling the case of Sorman,” he said.
Shalghouda – About 70% of Libyans in Muammar Gaddafi’s main stronghold Tripoli still support him and he is in no danger of falling anytime soon, a captured Libyan intelligence officer said on Friday.
“For the most part Tripoli is stable. There is some opposition to Gaddafi but I would say he is safe,” said Brigadier-General Al-Hadi al-Ujaili, who described himself as a member of Libya’s all-pervasive intelligence service.
“Gaddafi still has the support of key tribes. He is still very strong,” said the 54-year-old father of six, who was captured wearing a tan leisure suit by rebels pushing north towards the town of Zawiyah, 50km west of Tripoli.
Gaddafi is clinging to power despite a near five-month-old Nato air campaign, tightening economic sanctions and a lengthening war with rebels trying to end his 41-year rule.
The rebels have seized large swathes of the North African state, but are deeply divided and lack experience.
Reuters was allowed to speak to Ujaili, who was transported in the back of a pick-up truck, inside a concrete hut in the village of Shalghouda shortly after he was arrested.
Sitting cross-legged on a mat beside tin foil containers of old couscous, he was composed and almost defiant.
Angry rebels frequently interrupted the interview with condemnations of Gaddafi, who has ruled the North African oil-producing country for more than 40 years.
“There is opposition to Gaddafi in some parts of Tripoli like Tajoura and Souk al-Jumma,” said Ujaili. “I have heard that there are still demonstrations there. It’s a problem.”
The government is dealing it, he said. “When people get out of line they are arrested. That’s the way it works.”
Asked by a rebel “how can you do this to your own people”, Ujaili smiled and said “I will tell you the truth. There are no problems in Libya.”
He said he was arrested while driving from Tripoli to the town of Nasr, which rebels say they have taken. “I am just an administrative officer,” said Ujaili, closely studying each rebel fighter who walked into the hut.
But one rebel fighter barked back: “Tell the truth” and displayed a document signed by Ujaili authorising arrests.
Ujaili said he had been sent to Nasr to help oversee the government operation against the rebel advance towards Zawiyah, the scene of two failed uprisings against Gaddafi in the past six months of revolt.
Many of the rebels in the drive north to Zawiyah are from the town. Ujaili predicted a tough fight, even though he said Gaddafi’s forces do not have heavy weapons there.
“Gaddafi has more than 1 000 men there. They are mostly conscripts. Since the rebels have been moving he has been building up his people there,” he said.
A rebel said: “Don’t lie. You know there are African mercenaries there.”
Gaddafi denies using mercenaries. His opponents hope Nato airstrikes, advances by rebel units, defections and international isolation will prove to be too much for him.
But Ujaili said there were no signs that the supreme leader was in imminent danger of losing his 41-year grip on power.
“He is under threat, but pushing him out will be very difficult. The tribes are key. He has their support,” said Ujaili, as rebels barged in from time to time to glare at him with hatred, shaking their heads.
Ujaili seemed relaxed. At one point he was offered apple juice. But a few minutes later he began to sweat when a rebel accused him of calling the fighters “rats”, the term Gaddafi uses to describe them.
“I swear I didn’t say that. I swear I didn’t,” he said.