Muammar Gaddafi has called for the world to unite against the West’s “mad aggression”. The Libyan leader also warned, in a speech that was broadcast on state television, that he will arm civilians with weapons to defend Libya from, what he called, the “colonial, crusader”.
He said: “It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all types of weapons to defend the independence, unity and honour of Libya. We call on the peoples and citizens of the Arab and Islamic nations, Latin America, Asia and Africa to stand by the heroic Libyan people to confront this aggression, which will only increase the Libyan people’s strength, firmness and unity.”
He also said the Mediterranean and North Africa were now a battleground, and that the interests of countries in the region would be in danger from now on. Libya later called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Arabic satellite channels reported on Sunday.
“This is not an outcome the U.S. or any of our partners sought,” the U.S. President Barack Obama said from Brazil, where he is starting a five-day visit to Latin America. “We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy.”
A coalition of American and European (Britain, France, Canada and Italy) forces bombed Libyan targets by air and sea on Saturday in the first phase of a military campaign to drive Moammar Gadhafi from power.
French warplanes fired the first shots in the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war, destroying government tanks and armored vehicles in the region of the rebels’ eastern stronghold, Benghazi.
Hours later, British and U.S. warships and submarines launched more than 110 Tomahawk missiles against Gadhafi’s air defenses around the capital Tripoli and the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gadhafi’s forces, Pentagon officials said.
Libyan state TV on Sunday quoted the government’s armed forces command as saying 48 people were killed and 150 wounded in the allied assault. The statement said most of the casualties were children. however, the report could not be independently confirmed.
A U.S. national security official told Reuters the barrages “severely disabled” Gadhafi’s air defenses. “It’s too soon to predict what he and his ground forces may do in response to today’s strikes,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
The commencement of the allied military campaign came on the 8-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. On March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office, telling Americans that coalition forces “have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war.”
Earlier Saturday in Libya, Gadhafi’s troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi after a unilateral cease-fire declared by his government failed to materialize, prompting western leaders meeting in Paris to announce the start of military intervention.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the head of the US armed forces, said Col Gaddafi was no longer able to deploy helicopters and aircraft, meaning that “effectively the no-fly zone has been put in place”. However, he warned that the dictator could use chemical weapons, including a “significant quantity” of mustard gas in the desert.
“We’ve had our eyes on that for a significant period of time, literally the last two or three weeks,” he said. “There’s no indication he’s moving toward using that, but certainly that’s something we’re watching very carefully.”
Yesterday there were signs of international unease at the mission, and even splits within the coalition. There were reports of American anger at the French, who allegedly launched strikes on Libyan tanks on Saturday without international approval.