TRIPOLI, (Reuters) – Libyan state television early today broadcast what it said was a live speech by Muammar Gaddafi calling on the Libyan people to arm themselves to liberate the country from “traitors and from NATO.”
The speech, which was broadcast in audio only with no images, was the first time Gaddafi had spoken in public since rebel fighters launched their biggest offensive in months in the area around Tripoli.
“The Libyan people will remain and the Fateh revolution (which brought Gaddafi to power in 1969) will remain. Move forward, challenge, pick up your weapons, go to the fight for liberating Libya inch by inch from the traitors and from NATO,” the Libyan leader said.
“Get ready for the fight … The blood of martyrs is fuel for the battlefield.”
Gaddafi, making his first public address since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan two weeks ago, spoke by telephone. The sound quality was poor and cut out completely several times during his speech.
The Libyan conflict began six months ago when thousands of people inspired by popular uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt protested against Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.
His security forces mounted a crackdown in which hundreds of people were killed. Rebel fighters, backed by NATO warplanes, have since been trying to advance on the capital in fighting that has killed thousands more people.
Gaddafi says the rebels are criminals and al Qaeda militants, and has described the NATO bombing campaign as an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libya’s plentiful oil reserves.