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TRIPOLI – Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi repeated on Wednesday his claim that Al-Qaeda is behind a popular uprising against his 41-year rule and promised to fight it “to the last man and woman”.
In a speech broadcast live on state television, Gadhafi also challenged calls from at home and abroad for him to step down, saying he has “no real power”.
“Sleeper cells from Al-Qaeda, its elements, infiltrated gradually … They believe the world is theirs, they fight everywhere, the intelligence services know them by name,” he told a ceremony of loyalists in the capital Tripoli.
“Suddenly it started in (the eastern town of) Al-Baida… The sleeping cell was told to attack the battalion … and it took arms from police stations,” said Gadhafi.
“The soldiers went home and left their battalion” while the Al-Qaeda cells “took the weapons and control of the town.
“The women fled … bullets were everywhere. It was the same situation in Benghazi,” he said of the main eastern city under the control of the rebel forces.
But he said “we will fight to the end, to the last man, the last woman … with God’s help.”
The ceremony was aired live shortly after rebels said they had repelled an attack by Gadhafi’s forces in the eastern town of Brega on Wednesday, with witnesses reporting two civilians killed.
The event was to mark the anniversary of the launch of the People’s Committees, according to the broadcaster.
Reading from a prepared text, Gadhafi’s speech was frequently interrupted by chants of support, which he duly praised.
Gadhafi criticised media reports about the resignations of senior officials from his regime including several military leaders and ambassadors abroad.
“The resignations from abroad, the statements from inside (Libya) … don’t believe them,” he said.
“As far as Libya is concerned … nothing happened … and it is strange that the world received news from correspondents and TV stations not present in Libya.”
“They don’t want any real news from Libya,” Gadhafi said, before adding that “there are no political prisoners in Libya at all.”
“The Libyan people challenge … even Moammar Gadhafi who has no power,” said Gadhafi, who rose to power after a coup against Libya’s monarchy in 1969.
“When the People’s Committees issue something, it becomes law and is implemented for all Libyans. No one can declare war or peace unless the People’s Committees decide,” the Libyan leader said.
“Moammar has no real power to surrender.”
Gadhafi urged the international community to establish a commission of inquiry into the estimated deaths of more than 1,000 people killed in the unrest by his forces.
“We urge the world, the United Nations, to see where the people were killed, to send a fact-finding team to investigate.”
Wednesday’s counter-attack by Gadhafi’s forces was one of the biggest yet since the uprising against his rule erupted on February 15.
Rebels have seized most of the east of the country since the uprising began and have taken tentative steps towards setting up a parallel government, while watching warily for a fightback.
Gadhafi remains entrenched in Tripoli in the west of the oil-rich North African country.