Libyan opposition protesters may have seized key oil facilities Thursday and continued to fight over towns in Western and Central Libya.
Strongman Muammar Gaddafi, meanwhile, called in to state TV, saying the protesters "are listening to [Osama] bin Laden," or are young people who had been drugged. "No one above the age of 20 would actually take part in these events," he said, which are "run by al Qaida."
He also claimed that he was now "more of a symbolic leader," even as his army units continued to fire into crowds with heavy weapons.
Acts of random violence from "mercenaries" has caused much of eastern Libya to remain under siege, with shops and schools still closed, but the major fighting has shifted westward as protesters secure the area. Heavy fighting broke out in the towns of Tajura and Misurata, both to the east of Tripoli but still squarely part of western Libya. Meanwhile, the defection of Zawiya and Sabratha, both to the west of the capital and in the north-west of the country, and Sabha in the central south, sparked a military intervention.
Gaddafi expressed his rage during his telephone address. "People claim they are engineers and teachers and lecturers, so they should have reasonable demands," Gadaffi said. "But these people have no reasonable demands. Their demands are being dictated to them by bin Laden. People of Zawiya, your sons are being duped by bin Laden." Ironically Gaddafi also told listeners that "a real man doesn't use arms against innocent people."
Rebels claimed control over key oil facilities along the central coast of the country, at Ras Lanuf and Masra el Brega. "Regarding Ras Lanuf, a large port for exporting oil, and el Brega, and the gas pipelines from the desert to the ports ... the (anti-Gadhafi) revolutionaries have taken control of them," said Soliman Karim, a 65-year-old lawyer involved in committees set up to run Benghazi that is now outside Gadaffi's rule. "Exports are going on as usual, the same amount as have been agreed before," Karim added, citing "people in the area where the rebels are in charge." However China's National Petroleum Corporation evacuated some employees and said that its facilities were under attack.
A cousin and close advisor of Gaddafi, Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, defected to Egypt "in protest and to show disagreement" with "grave violations to human rights and human and international laws." The defection is the latest in a series of high-level officials abandoning Gaddafi, including that of the Libyan ambassador to Jordan today.