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Gaddafi defiant, but sends exile feelers

world Updated: Mar 23, 2011 23:19 IST

Amid differences among allies about how to manage the five-day-old military campaign in Libya, airstrikes continued to rock Tripoli early on Wednesday while some units loyal to Muammar Gaddafi were reported to have ceased firing on a key rebel-held city after allied airplanes attacked loyalist tanks and artillery.

At sea, news reports said six NATO warships had started patrolling off Libya’s coast Wednesday to enforce a United Nations arms embargo.

A senior British commander said Wednesday that the allies had effectively destroyed the Libyan air force and air defenses and were now able to operate “with near impunity” across the country, Reuters reported. “We are now applying sustained and unrelenting pressure on the Libyan armed forces,” the commander, Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell, said.

Meanwhile, Gaddafi has made his first public appearance since air strikes on his forces began, pledging that he will not surrender and calling the international coalition against him a “bunch of fascists”.

The speech came after Barack Obama warned the leader may try to hang on to power despite the military intervention. But the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said she understood people close to Gaddafi were in touch with other countries asking for advice on exile options.

Gaddafi appeared outside his Tripoli compound early on Wednesday morning to speak to supporters who have formed a human shield to protect him.

“We will not surrender,” he said. “We will defeat them by any means ...We are ready for the fight ...We will be victorious in the end,” he said in live broadcast.

Clinton said she understood people close to the Libyan leader had contacted other states.

“We’ve heard about other people close to him reaching out to people that they know around the world, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, north America, beyond, saying what do we do?” she said. “How do we get out of this? What happens next?

“I’m not aware that he personally has reached out, but I do know that people allegedly on his behalf have been reaching out.”