Men paint a Kingdom of Libya flag in Benghazi. The flag, used when Libya gained independence from Italy in 1951, has been used as a symbol of resistance. (Goran Tomasevic, Reuters / February 26, 2011)
Reporting from Cairo —
Moammar Kadafi retained his stubborn grip on Tripoli on Saturday as irregular security forces largely cleared the streets of demonstrators a day after thousands protested against his government following prayer services.
Residents reported that many of those manning checkpoints and patrolling the streets in trucks Saturday were civilian supporters enlisted by the embattled Libyan leader in hopes that he might be able to continue his 42-year rule.
"If needed, the arsenals will be open to arm all the Libyan people, all the Libyan tribes. Libya will be red with fire; it will turn into ashes," Kadafi said in a televised address that was described as a live speech on state television Friday night.
The address was aired as his son, Saif Islam Kadafi, hosted a group of foreign journalists for a closely monitored trip meant to portray the family as in control.
"If you hear fireworks, don't mistake it for shooting," the 38-year-old Kadafi said, according to an account provided by Reuters. "Peace is coming back to our country."
But the journalists said they observed a desperate crush of people at the airport, fruitlessly pressing against the gate in an effort to leave the country. When the journalists attempted to interview people in the crowd, police and militia members intercepted them and detained at least one photographer.
Meanwhile, the international community stepped up its response to the 10-day Libyan crisis, applying diplomatic pressure and arranging to have foreign nationals evacuated from the country
The U.N. Security Council planned to meet Saturday. Britain, France, Germany and the United States have drawn up a resolution that says the attacks on civilians in Libya could amount to crimes against humanity. The resolution calls for an arms embargo, a travel ban and an assets freeze against the Libyan leader.
American officials moved forward on President Obama's executive order to freeze assets held by Kadafi and four of his children in the United States. The Treasury Department said the sanctions against Kadafi, three of his sons and a daughter also apply to the Libyan government.
The British Foreign Office said a chartered plane arrived Saturday afternoon in Tripoli to evacuate up to 148 of its citizens.
"It appears that, effectively, Kadafi no longer controls the situation in Libya," said Italian President Silvio Berlusconi, the European leader with the closest relationship to Libya.
Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi contributed to this report from Ras Ajdir, Tunisia.
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