Libyan Government Cracks Down on Protests, Gadhafi Appears on TV

BY Francine Uenuma  February 22, 2011 at 2:20 PM EST

Updated 3 p.m. ET

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Gadhafi to “stop this unacceptable bloodshed” after days of violence against protesters in Tripoli and Benghazi.

In a news conference with Latvia’s foreign minister, Clinton said “the United States believes it is in the interest of governments to engage peacefully and positively in addressing their demands,” referring to protests in Libya and elsewhere in the region.

Secretary Clinton said the Libyan government “must take actions to end the violence” against protesters and that the U.S. is taking all possible measures to protects its citizens in Libya.

Updated 12:10 a.m. ET

Moammar Gadhafi appeared on Libyan state TV from Tripoli to defy calls for him to step down, saying, “This is my country and the country of my grandfathers … we have irrigated it with our blood” and “we are more qualified than those rats, those agents of foreign intelligence services,” according to a translator.

“We defied America and its power,” he said, “we defied the world atomic powers. We have won. We became victorious.”

“I have paid the price of my remaining here,” he said, recollecting his “martyred” grandfather. “It is not possible that I’ll leave this place. I will be a martyr until the end.”

Gadhafi accused U.S. planes of firing on Libya and said they had been challenged everywhere and were resisting.

He said youth “had been given hallucination pills” when raiding police stations and said they were being manipulated by people from Tunisia. He accused infiltrators of offering money and drugs to susceptible youth protesters.

Originally posted 9 a.m. ET

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi appeared on state television to dispel rumors that he had left the country, instead remaining defiant and calling foreign media outlets “dogs” as violence continued in Tripoli, Benghazi and throughout the country. There are estimates that several hundred have been killed in the clashes between protesters and security forces, although foreign journalists have largely had to rely on human rights groups and defectors for information from inside the North African country.

Tens of thousands of foreigners are attempting to evacuate from the country, and neighboring Egypt, just weeks ago the epicenter of the region’s upheaval, says it is planning to send aircraft to evacuate its citizens. The United States has issued a travel advisory and ordered non-essential personnel out of the country. There were also unconfirmed reports of foreign construction workers being held against their will.

Witnesses reported bodies in the streets of Tripoli after a crackdown on protesters in which security forces were reportedly seen shooting anti-government marchers on sight. There were also reports that ambulances had been fired upon and forces were shooting from vantage points on rooftops.

The scene in Benghazi, the second-largest city in the eastern part of the country, differed from that of Tripoli as protesters appeared to have the upper hand and an army unit reportedly defected and joined them. The city’s airport is said to be closed.

On Monday two pilots flew to Malta and defected, according to the Times of Malta, after being told to bomb protester strongholds. Saif al-Islam, Gadhafi’s son, said air raids were targeting ammunition depots, not civilians.

Several ambassadors and government officials who have defected from Gadhafi’s government have cited the brutality of the crackdown in their dissent.

The turmoil has posed an unprecedented challenge to Gadhafi, who has had a grip on power since 1969.

The unrest has led to a skyrocketing price of oil, up to $93 a barrel on Tuesday.