As the call for declaring Libya a no-fly zone gathers international momentum, strongman Muammar Qadhafi has warned that he would, if denied the use of his warplanes to combat the Opposition's efforts to unseat his regime, unleash a people's war that would target the West.

In an interview with Turkish television, he said that the West wanted to seize Libyan oil, and the imposition of a no-fly zone would be a step in that direction. “If they take such a decision [to impose a no-fly zone], it will be useful for Libya, because the Libyan people will see the truth, that what they want is to take control of Libya and to steal their oil,” Mr. Qadhafi told Turkey's TRT Television. “Then, the Libyan people will take up arms against them.”

But by Wednesday, in apparent desperation, regime planes had bombed oil storage tanks in Sidra, Al Jazeera reported. In Benghazi, anti-regime protesters said that the Sidra bombing would further intensify the demands in the West for the imposition of a no-fly zone.

“Now, with this bombing, the Americans and other sceptics in the West will be spurred to impose a no-fly zone and stop this man from repeating this cowardly act,” Tawfik Mansury, an Opposition activist said.

Opposition forces have also rebuffed a regime attack on Ras Lanuf with tanks, brought from the Qadhafi-stronghold of Sirte. In Benghazi, anti-Qadhafi forces celebrated the news with prolonged bursts of celebratory fire. Others in chorus accompanied the firing with loud chants of “Allahu Akbar” — the patent slogan of the Libyan uprising.

Eyewitnesses, however, said large plumes of smoke were visible, probably due to air strikes on an oil facility in Ras Lanuf.

Earlier, responding to the demands for a no-fly zone, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the decision to impose a no-fly zone over Libya rested with the United Nations. Britain and France were working on a U.N. Security Council resolution.

However, Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council has so far opposed military intervention in Libya.

No-fly zones had been imposed in Bosnia in 1994-95, and in northern and southern Iraq in the aftermath of the first gulf war in 1991.

Threats reinforced

Reinforcing his threats against the U.S. and Europe, Mr. Qadhafi said on Wednesday, on Libyan state television, that Europe was conniving with Al Qaeda to divide Libya. Mr. Qadhafi warned the Opposition in Benghazi that his supporters would hound them out in the city, Libya's second-largest, with its courthouse the epicentre of the revolt. “There is no choice for the people of Benghazi but to go out on the streets — men, women and children — to rid Benghazi of this betrayal,” Mr.Qadhafi said. “Benghazi, which used to be beautiful, is turning into ruins. It must be liberated.”

Mr. Qadhafi's address followed a bloody assault on Zawiya, an oil town with an export terminal, a mere 50 kilometres west of capital Tripoli. In trying to dislodge Opposition forces who had been, for a week, in control of Zawiya, pro-Qadhafi forces have resorted to heavy shelling and an assault using tanks. Reuters reported that the Zawiya refinery had been shut down.

“There are many dead people and they can't even bury them,” Reuters quoted a pro-Opposition fighter as saying.

Libyan state television claimed that Zawiya had been “liberated” from the rebels, though the claim could not be independently verified.

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