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22 February 2011

Is this the strangest act of defiance ever?

Colonel Gaddafi makes 22-second appearance on state television to say that he has not fled Tripoli.

By Samira Shackle

 

Colonel Gaddafi’s strangehold on power in Libya is coming under ever greater pressure, as protests continue in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya despite the bloodiest crackdown in any of the Middle Eastern states.

Phone lines and internet connections in the country have been largely shut down, making it difficult to verify information. However, last night Gaddafi, who has ruled the country for 41 years, made a brief appearance on state television to counter rumours that he had left Tripoli and fled to Venezuela. He said:

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I am satisfied, because I was speaking in front of the youth in the Green Square tonight, but the rain came, praise to God, it is a good omen.

I want to clarify for them that I am in Tripoli not in Venezuela. Do not believe these channels – they are dogs. Goodbye.

It was certainly a strange act of defiance: the broadcast lasted for just 22 seconds and went out at 2am local time. He is shown leaning out of the passenger seat of an old white car, holding up an umbrella to shield himself from the rain as he speaks. It gives the impression of being rather rushed and panicked.

However, Alastair Leithead, the BBC’s correspondent, warns that we must not be too quick to take this as a sign of Gaddafi’s grip crumbling:

People will be looking at him and saying: “This isn’t particularly organised, it maybe shows a little panic but maybe what he was saying was that he was still very firmly in control.”

We may read from that that he is determined to continue resistance to the opposition that has taken to the streets, that the opposition will see it as too costly to continue.

But with several key Libyan diplomats disowning the regime, and nearly all of them pleading for Gaddafi to step down or for the international community to step in, it seems that he has not yet succeeded in calming the winds of change.