Gaddafi appears on state TV denying he has fled country

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LIBYAN leader Muammar Gaddafi today appeared on state television denying rumours that he fled the chaos-stricken country amid bloody clashes between protesters and security forces.

Deep rifts have opened in Gaddafi’s regime, with Libyan government officials at home and abroad resigning, air force pilots defecting and a bloody crackdown on protest in the capital of Tripoli, where cars and buildings were burned.

World leaders expressed outrage at the “vicious forms of repression” used against the demonstrators.

The longest-serving Arab leader appeared briefly on TV to attempt to show he was still in charge. Sitting in a car in front of what appeared to be his residence and holding an umbrella out of the passenger side door, he told an interviewer that he had wanted to go to the capital’s Green Square to talk to his supporters, but the rain stopped him.

“I am here to show that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Don’t believe those misleading dog stations,” Mr Gaddafi said, referring to media reports that he had left the country.

The video clip and comments lasted less than a minute – unusual for the mercurial leader, who is known for rambling speeches that often last hours.

Pro-Gaddafi militia drove through Tripoli with loudspeakers and told people not to leave their homes, witnesses said, as security forces sought to keep the unrest that swept eastern parts of the country – leaving the second-largest city of Benghazi in protesters’ control – from overwhelming the capital of two million people.

State TV said the military had “stormed the hideouts of saboteurs” and urged the public to back security forces.

Protesters called for a demonstration in Tripoli’s central Green Square and in front of Mr Gaddafi’s residence, but witnesses in various neighbourhoods described a scene of intimidation: helicopters hovering above the main seaside boulevard and pro-Gaddafi gunmen firing from moving cars and even shooting at the facades of homes to terrify the population.

Warplanes swooped low over Tripoli in the evening and snipers took up position on roofs, apparently to stop people outside the capital from joining protests, according to Mohammed Abdul-Malek, a London-based opposition activist in touch with residents.

Deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi accused Gaddafi of committing genocide against his own people. The eruption of turmoil in the capital after seven days of protests in Libya’s eastern cities has sparked the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country.

At least 233 people have been killed so far, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.