TRIPOLI, Libya – Embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi marshaled cheering supporters and convoys of trucks said to be headed for rebel territory in a bid to counter reports that he has lost control of vast swaths of his country to opposition forces in the second week of a rebellion seemingly at stalemate.
The show of strength in and around Tripoli was for the benefit of foreign journalists on official tours of the capital, where the once seemingly invincible Gadhafi has hunkered down with loyalists and vowed to defeat the fierce challenge of his 41-year rule.
“I need Moammar Gadhafi,” said Abdul Salaam Abu Saifi, a 21-year-old student, as cars filled with supporters in the suburb of Kasr ben Ghashir honked horns and passengers pumped their fists in the air. “Those who say life is bad here are liars.”
As Gadhafi lieutenants cast a picture of calm and normalcy in areas still under regime control, opponents in the rebel-held east claimed that they had gained ground in several coastal cities and that they had repulsed government forces trying to take back at least three strategic venues that fell last week.
The conflicting claims and choreographed displays of control did little to shed light on the true balance of power in the latest Middle Eastern uprising against autocratic rule.
Even in the government-held towns around the capital where regime supporters took visiting journalists, frightened opponents whispered words of dissent when government minders were out of earshot, and the official pronouncements often had a hollow ring.
It was unimaginable, for instance, that the trucks reportedly headed to Benghazi with relief supplies could break through the rebel roadblocks along the huge stretches of coastal roadway. It was likewise impossible to verify the rebels’ claims to have organized an imminent surge toward Tripoli for final confrontation with Gadhafi’s forces.
As Gadhafi foes and supporters weathered the tense impasse around Tripoli in the second week of the rebellion, the international community stepped up pressure on the defiant strongman with renewed calls for him to step down and for sanctions to punish his bloody crackdown.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned of the risk of protracted civil war in Libya but indicated that the Obama administration will remain cautious about any military action to avoid perceptions that the United States wants to “invade for oil.” The White House is also aware of the Libyan rebels’ desire to oust Gadhafi without foreign help, she said.
In comments to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Clinton suggested that the administration is likely to continue to exercise restraint, even though officials have said military moves are under consideration.
Two U.S. amphibious assault ships were headed for the Mediterranean, as were 400 Marines, moves intended to keep U.S. forces poised to respond to any situation, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.