Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is again defying demands to step down, proclaiming that he has the support of the people, as his forces stage a counter-offensive against opposition forces who took control of the country’s eastern region last month.
In a televised speech Wednesday to supporters in Tripoli, Gadhafi said he cannot resign because he holds no political office in a system that he said puts all power in the hands of the people. He also repeated accusations that the al-Qaida terrorist organization is behind the uprising against his 42-year rule.
There are reports of fighting between pro-Gadhafi and opposition forces east of the capital. Western news media say a loud explosion has rocked the eastern town of Brega.
Earlier Wednesday, witnesses said pro-Gadhafi forces stormed into Brega and briefly seized its oil installations along with an airstrip. Opposition fighters said they later recaptured both sites. Witnesses also said military forces carried out air strikes on the nearby town of Ajabiya.
Ajabiya and Brega are on the western edge of the eastern region that has been largely under opposition-control since anti-government protesters and military defectors began an uprising last month to end Gadhafi’s autocratic rule.
Libyan opposition leaders in the eastern stronghold of Benghazi said they are debating whether to request foreign air strikes against Gadhafi’s military installations and other key facilities. Some officials on Benghazi’s governing council said Tuesday that a rebel stalemate with pro-Gadhafi forces may never end without foreign air strikes.
The Washington Post quoted three Benghazi council members as saying they will make a request for air strikes soon, reversing earlier pledges not to seek foreign military intervention. The opposition councilors said, though, they do not want any foreign ground troops in Libya. The council is made up of lawyers, academics, judges and other prominent figures.
Libyan dissidents meeting with U.S. officials in Washington this week made similar calls for greater logistical support from American and NATO forces, including possible targeted military strikes against Gadhafi’s air force, tanks and troops.
The State Department confirmed talks with a variety of Libyan opposition figures, but did not give details. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has said it is “premature” to discuss military assistance to the Libyan opposition while its various factions try to become more organized.
Libyan anti-government activists continue to hold the key western town of Zawiya, near the Libyan capital, Tripoli, following a battle with government troops. But, residents said pro-government forces had moved their checkpoints closer to the town, increasing control over outlying areas.