TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi tried on Friday to minimize the extent of fighting with rebels who have seized much of the country, and said he expected negotiated ceasefires in two flashpoint cities within a day.
Speaking in English to foreign journalists flown to Tripoli under official escort, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said rebels who surrendered would not be harmed and that Libya needed reforms.
His account of the state of the country, however, seemed at odds with the control exercised for the past few days in much of the east by groups intent on ending Gaddafi’s 41-year rule and with reports from residents in and around the capital itself.
The younger Gaddafi said there was no violence outside two western cities and branded as “lies” media reports that troops bombed civilians or were using mercenaries.
“We are laughing at these reports,” he said. “Apart from Misrata and Zawiya, everything is calm ... Negotiations are going on and we are optimistic.
“In Misrata, in Zawiya, we have a problem. We are dealing with terrorists. But hopefully they are running out of ammunition. Hopefully there will be no more bloodshed. By tomorrow we will solve this. The army decided not to attack the terrorists, and to give a chance to negotiation. Hopefully we will do it peacefully and will do so by tomorrow.”
Since revolt broke out last week following the toppling of veteran strongmen in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, the east of the country has slipped from the control of Gaddafi’s forces and residents have reported fighting ever closer to Tripoli.
Residents of Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, and Zawiya in the west, have said opposition fighters have taken control and have beaten back counter-attacks by the army.
International diplomats say some 2,000 or more people have been killed in the violence. A draft resolution circulated at the United Nations Security Council said that attacks on civilians in Libya may amount to crimes against humanity.
Western powers have said they will impose sanctions and have called for an end to violence.
As journalists from Reuters and other news organisations were driven by Libyan officials from Tripoli airport into the city late on Friday, the streets of the capital seemed unusually empty for what is normally a busy part of the weekend.
Earlier in the day, residents spoke of fighting and of some areas appearing to be in the control of Gaddafi’s opponents. Arab media said several people were killed.
In a characteristic show of defiance, the 68-year-old Gaddafi appeared before thousands of supporters in the central Green Square to vow he would “crush any enemy.”
His son said opposition leaders were in a weak position: “The top people in these groups are desperate. We are telling them — lay down your arms and we will not harm you.
“We believe we do need to reform our country. We need to introduce many reforms.
“We are strong. We are united, all fighting for our country. We are all united against dark forces.
“There is a big conspiracy against our country. There are countries behind this campaign. This is what’s happening in the east. They want to introduce an Afghan model to Libya ... It’s not a secret. Al Qaeda issued a statement supporting these groups.”
Reporting by Maria Golovnina, writing by Alastair Macdonald, editing by Alison Williams