Will divert business to India, China, Qadhafi warns West

The debate on foreign intervention to topple the regime of Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi appears to have shifted dramatically in the uprising's stronghold of Benghazi, after pro-government forces attacked two prominent eastern cities on Wednesday.

Forces loyal to Mr. Qadhafi had on Wednesday taken from the protesters the town of Brega, and oil exporting terminal 800 km east of Tripoli. The regime's fighter jets also attacked the town of Ajdabiyah, around 80 km from Brega. Besides these, government forces have apparently re-taken the towns of Gharyan and Sabratha, both not far from Tripoli.

Buoyed by his military's counter-attacks, Mr. Qadhafi appeared on state television on Wednesday to warn western leaders to keep away from Libya. He said that India, China and Russia would become beneficiaries of investments in Libya, in case the West persisted with its hostility. He also claimed India has requested permission to send back its workers who fled Libya.

Mr. Qadhafi warned that NATO or the United States would set “foot in hell worse than Afghanistan” if they intervened in Libya. “I hope that Obama will pursue a normal policy — he is not a colonialist Yankee. Obama can steer the United States and Europe away from another Vietnam.” In his concluding remarks, he said: “We accept this challenge — or we will hand out arms to three million people. It will become another Vietnam, another historic battle.” Mr. Qadhafi also invoked the Al-Qaeda for masterminding the uprising, by duping the gullible Libyan youth, using all means including distribution of hallucinatory pills to them.

The vulnerability to air strikes of anti-regime fighters, and their inability to quickly raise a battle hardened force, has reopened the debate among protesters on foreign intervention to remove Mr. Qadhafi. The New York Times is reporting that opposition leaders in Benghazi are debating a call for air strikes under the United Nations flag to dislodge Mr. Qadhafi. “If it is with the United Nations, it is not a foreign intervention,” human rights lawyer and opposition leader Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga said in Benghazi. On Monday, at a press conference, Mr. Ghoga had stressed the uprising had to be internally driven, without foreign interference, in order to remove the Qadhafi-regime.

Apart from the regime's disinclination to yield ground and its proclivity to use force on its own citizens, the humanitarian crisis caused by the flood of refugees from Libya to neighbouring countries has also entered the debate on foreign air strikes. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that around 1,000 people have so far died in the on-going violence in Libya.

Analysts say the pro-air strikes campaigners, who want the conflict to quickly end, are calling for pin-pointed attacks on specific regime targets such as Mr. Qadhafi's well-defended palace and important military targets such as radar platforms.

As Mr. Qadhafi spoke, a fierce battle continued to rage over the oil town of Brega. Libya's former Interior Minister, Abdel Fattah Younes al Abidi, told al-Arabiya that Brega airport was back with the protesters. Al Jazeera reported later on Wednesday that opposition forces were surrounding around 250-300 Qadhafi-loyalists inside the town. However, a regime fighter jet had also bombed the town in the evening. During his address, Mr. Qadhafi had warned: “We can't allow oil installations or airports to be controlled by armed men.” In fresh gains for the protesters, the town of Nalut, sandwiched between the Tunisian border and Tripoli, is now with them, after several soldiers defected and handed over weapons to the opposition. The dissidents also continued to hold on to Zawiya, an important oil port, only fifty km from Tripoli.

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