Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi delivered another meandering speech on Wednesday in Tripoli as his forces launch their most ambitious counteroffensive against rebels in the east and the U.S. orders warships to the Mediterranean.
In a speech to honor the 34th anniversary of Qaddafi declaring Libya a "Jamahiriya"--or state ruled directly by the people--the Libyan leader asserted that reports of deaths in the Libyan uprising have been exaggerated and that no more than 150 people have been killed. A day after the United Nations General Assembly suspended Libya from its Human Rights Council, Qaddafi challenged the U.N. and NATO to send a fact-finding mission to the country to verify his side of the story. Qaddafi traced the origins of the unrest to Al Qaeda sleeper cells, called protesters "terrorists," and vowed to "fight until the last man, the last woman" and to not "abandon Libyan soil."
On the topic of intervention by the international community, Qaddafi warned that if the U.S. or NATO entered Libya, they would "set foot in hell--worse than Afghanistan," and thousands of people would die. "I hope that Obama will pursue a normal policy--he is not a colonialist yankee. Obama can steer us and Europe away from another Vietnam," he said.
Qaddafi's speech came amidst what may be, according to Reuters, Qaddafi's most significant military assault on protesters and their power centers in eastern Libya since the unrest eruped in the country two week ago. There are conflicting reports about whether government forces have captured the opposition-controlled town of Brega, a hub for oil exports on the Mediterranean coast about 500 miles east of the capital, with Al Jazeera reporting that the Libyan airforce just bombed the area. There are also reports of airstrikes on protesters in Ajdabiyah, a town near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya. Until now, the Associated Press explains, pro-Qaddafi forces "have been focusing on securing his stronghold in the capital Tripoli and trying to take back nearby rebel-held cities in the west, with only mixed success."
The speech also came as the U.S. and its European allies discuss whether to intervene in Libya beyond the economic sanctions they've already imposed on the Qaddafi regime. One option is to impose a no-fly zone in an effort to prevent Qaddafi's air force from attacking Libyans, but the New York Times notes that the idea "has failed to draw support from either the United States or Russia and Libyan rebels say they are opposed to foreign intervention in a home-grown uprising," though the opposition has expressed support for foreign airstrikes. In a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on Wednesday, the Iraqi foreign minister characterized the Libyan uprising as an internal Arab affair and argued that Arabs are not interested in "foreign intervention." Meanwhile, U.S. warships are sailing through the Suez Canal en route to the Mediterranean.