Air strikes continue as Gaddafi sees foreigners hands in protests (Lead)

March 9th, 2011 - 6:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Cairo/Tripoli, March 9 (IANS) Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi have launched air strikes on a major oil export terminal held by anti-government protesters as the defiant Libyan leader alleged involvement of foreigners in the protests against his over 41-year-old rule.

In an address on state TV, Gaddafi warned of a plot to colonise Libya, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

He alleged “foreign forces” were recruiting vulnerable youngsters in Zentain, Az Zawiyah and Benghazi — cities currently being held by rebels.

Gaddafi accused the US, Britain and France of planning to seize Libya’s oil and wealth. He said they “want to colonise Libya again”.

Opposition forces said Wednesday that Gaddafi’s forces were moving into Ras Lanuf to take back the oil-rich city from rebel hands, as part of an eastern push towards Benghazi — the first city that ousted government loyalists, DPA reported.

Fierce fighting between anti-government protesters and security forces had taken place over the last several days in the western city of Az Zawiyah, near the capital Tripoli, and in Ras Lanuf.

The air strikes near rebel positions east of the oil port of Ras Lanuf follow similar attacks Monday and Tuesday.

But the opposition has vowed to continue fighting back.

Gaddafi’s address came after the rebels served him an ultimatum to step down within 72 hours.

“If he leaves Libya immediately, during 72 hours, and stops the bombardment, we as Libyans will step back from pursuing him for crimes,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the opposition National Council, told Al Jazeera Tuesday.

The rebels demanding Gaddafi’s ouster took control of Ras Lanuf last week. A rebel spokesman said an offer by Gaddafi’s representatives to negotiate the Libyan leader’s exit had been rejected.

Libya is reeling under massive anti-government protests since Feb 14. The protesters are demanding the ouster of Gaddafi who has ruled the north African country for almost 42 years.

According to one estimate, the violent clashes between anti-government protesters and pro-Gaddafi troops have claimed over 6,000 lives. The UN says around 200,000 people have been displaced by the violence.

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