In his latest remarks, embattled Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi blamed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for the uprising in his country, hours after pro-government forces attacked a mosque in the city of Zawiya, killing at least 15 people and wounding 150 others.

During his comments, which were made to state television over the phone on Thursday, Gadhafi said the protesters are “loyal to bin Laden.”

He claimed the terrorist group was placing “hallucinogenic pills” to teenagers in their morning coffee and besieged parents to keep better control of their teenage children.

“This is al Qaeda and the whole world is fighting,” Gadhafi said. “You have no reason not to enjoy a peaceful life, get control of your children, keep them at home. Those young teenagers, they are carrying machine guns and they feel trigger happy.”

The autocratic, 68-year-old Libyan ruler is facing a massive popular uprising of opponents calling for his departure. So far he has steadfastly vowed not to leave and said he will die a martyr on Libyan soil rather than flee his country.

But he appears to have lost control of the eastern half of Libya. Several diplomats, ministers and military officers have turned on their leader — including a high-ranking cousin. Gadhafi’s authority may now extend only as far as the capital of Tripoli and its surrounding towns, to the southern desert and to some less populated central areas of the country.

In his televised comments, Gadhafi also expressed condolences for those killed in Zawiya hours earlier, when his supporters attacked opponents at a mosque in the city east of the capital.

But he also chided residents for getting involved in the rebellion.

Jeffrey Kofman, an ABC reporter reached in Ben Gardane, Tunisia, said Tripoli and the western parts of the country, where Gadhafi is struggling to maintain control, are experiencing a “campaign of ruthless intimidation” from Gadhafi’s supporters.

He said many of the mercenaries are from other countries, have no connection to Libya, and have been brought in to serve as a brutal militia. Vehicles full of armed men are roaming the streets shooting at random.

“It could be just a matter of days before Gadhafi falls. On the other hand he’s a determined guy with a lot of guns and he could hang on for a long time. A lot of people could die before this is resolved,” Kofman told CTV news Channel.

The situation in Tripoli is becoming desperate, Kofman said. While foreigners have been told to travel to the airport to depart the country, getting there could be fatal.

On the other hand, those who are holed up indoors are beginning to run out of food. Kofman said there are reports that the capital is out of baby formula, and mothers are feeding their children watered-down cow’s milk as an alternative.

Libya’s economy — almost entirely based on its oil reserves — is largely dependent on the estimated one million foreigners who live there, Kofman said. But many have been fleeing the unrest.

According to medical officials, at least15 people were killed in Thursday’s clashes, with at least another 150 wounded. But it is difficult to accurately gauge the number of dead due to government-imposed media restrictions and communication black-outs.

The attack in Zawiya prompted thousands of protesters to flood into the town’s central Martyrs Square, shouting for Gadhafi to leave.

“People came to send a clear message: We are not afraid of death or your bullets,” one witness told The Associated Press.

Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said the only thing that will save lives in the North African country is military intervention.

One option would be to impose a no-fly zone on Libyan airspace to prevent the country’s air force from strafing or bombing protesters on the streets.

Heinbecker said there appear to be NATO airbases “within striking distance” of Libya, which would make enforcing a no-fly zone possible.

The United Nations Security Council has issued a statement on the situation. But Heinbecker described its wording as “not very strong,” raising doubts about whether the decision-making body would authorize military intervention to prevent further bloodshed.

“It may not be possible to get the UN to approve military intervention,” he told CTV News Channel, because member countries such as Russia and China — which enjoy veto privileges on the Security Council — “always worry about the precedent it might set for themselves.”


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