In audio message, Qaddafi challenges NATO


Tripoli –MAP- Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi raged against the alliance Friday, screaming his message and daring Western forces to keep it up.

Qaddafi spoke in a telephone call that was piped through loudspeakers to a few thousand people demonstrating in Tripoli's Green Square, at the end of a day when NATO intensified bombing runs across the capital. State television carried the Qaddafi message live then repeated it a few minutes later.
"NATO will be defeated," he yelled in a hoarse, agitated voice. "They will pull out in defeat."
East of Tripoli, meanwhile, Qaddafi's forces exchanged intense shelling with rebels who are slowly breaking the government siege on their western stronghold, the port city of Misrata.
Doctors at the Hikma hospital in Misrata said nine rebel fighters and a woman living near the battle were killed and 30 others were wounded. Government casualties were not known.

Barrages of artillery and Grad missiles were landing on rebel lines as they continued trying to advance out of Misrata, 125 miles, east of the capital. The heaviest shelling rained down between the towns of Dafniya and Zlitan, west of the Mediterranean port. Rebels were holding their own with return fire from their front about 20 miles west of the port.

For weeks rebels had been bottled up in Misrata, one of a handful of toeholds they hold in Western Libya. The eastern third of the country is under rebel control from their de facto capital, Benghazi. As NATO warplanes began stepping up attacks on Libyan government forces, bases and ammunition depots in recent days, the rebels in Misrata used the distraction to start their push out of Misrata toward Tripoli. Fighting has been intense along that front, with the rebels only able to advance about 20 miles.

NATO attacked the Libyan capital at midday Friday, pounding a target in the south of the city and sending a thick cloud of black smoke rising high into the air.
A series of explosions rumbled across other parts of the city as fighter jets could by heard flying overhead. Fire engines raced through the streets, sirens blaring.

It wasn't clear what was hit or whether there were casualties. Friday is the main day of rest in Libya, with many people off work.

NATO has been ramping up the pressure on Qaddafi's regime. Though most airstrikes happen under cover of darkness, daytime raids have grown more frequent.

Friday's raids follow a barrage that struck multiple targets late Thursday night.
In his outburst, Qaddafi made a spitting sound and labeling as cowards the rebels fighting to oust him and those politicians and soldiers who had defected from Qaddafi's cause. He called the rebels "sons of dogs," a particularly cutting epithet in the Arab world.
And he said the people of Benghazi, the rebel capital, were existing on money from the "donkeys of Qatar, and the donkeys of Gulf." The rebels are receiving support from Arab nations in the Persian Gulf.
As the fresh NATO airstrikes Friday blasted the capital, alliance Wing Commander Mike Bracken said Qaddafi's future at the helm of Libya was a what he called a "political decision." Bracken spoke by video conference to reporters in Brussels, NATO headquarters.
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