Shouting, Libya's Gadhafi lashes out at NATO
TRIPOLI, Libya—An agitated Moammar Gadhafi lashed out Friday at those seeking to push him from power, warning in an audio message broadcast on state TV that NATO and his other enemies will be trampled "under the feet of the Libyan masses."
In the capital of Tripoli, meanwhile, thousands rallied in the main square for mass prayers and a show of support for Gadhafi. The gathering in the capital's Green Square came a week after another large pro-government demonstration there, showing that Gadhafi can still muster significant support in his stronghold Tripoli.
Gadhafi has not been seen publicly in recent weeks, apparently keeping himself hidden so as not to be targeted by NATO airstrikes. After the broadcast of his speech Friday evening, bursts of gunfire -- presumably in celebration -- were heard in Tripoli.
In his message, Gadhafi warned that all those challenging his regime would be defeated.
"The enemies of the masses will fall under the feet of the masses, under the marching of the masses," said the embattled leader, his voice rising to a shout. "The collaborators and traitors will fall -- east and west -- and NATO will fall under the feet of the Libyan masses, under the feet of the free Libyan people!"
Earlier, worshippers congregated under tents set up in Tripoli's Green Square to shield themselves from the hot midday sun. Some wore photos of Gadhafi around their necks, while others carried signs bearing his portrait.
In his sermon, the imam urged Libyans to stop fighting one another, and said Western nations had intervened in Libya's civil war because they were after the country's oil.
"Pray for a victory over NATO," he told worshippers, adding that "God will punish those who brought NATO here" -- an apparent reference to rebel leaders based in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Friday is the Muslim day of rest. With many people off work, it is generally the day the Middle East witnesses its biggest protests.
After the prayers finished, many worshippers began waving the green national flag and chanting pro-Gadhafi slogans as government minders rushed visiting journalists to a rooftop overlooking the square for a better view.
While thousands of supporters rallied, many other worshippers dodged the political slogans by streaming out of the square as soon as prayers finished.
In Brussels, the European Union said that Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, will meet next Wednesday with a delegation of the rebels' National Transitional Council headed by its diplomatic chief Mahmoud Jibril.
In May, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton opened a diplomatic office in Benghazi and pledged support for a democratic Libya.
The Libyan rebel delegation is also scheduled to visit NATO and meet with Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
In an interview with The Associated Press in Naples, Italy, Rasmussen said opposition forces trying to topple Gadhafi are making progress. But he emphasized that political progress is needed because "there is no military solution to the conflict solely."
NATO began airstrikes against Libya in March. The coalition and its Arab allies are operating under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians.
Libya's rebels have consolidated their power over much of eastern Libya. They also hold pockets in the west, including the port city of Misrata and a string of towns in the Nafusa mountains southwest of Tripoli, but have struggled to mount a major push toward the capital.
Government troops shelled rebel positions west of Misrata Friday, killing five rebels and injuring others, activist Mohammed Slim said via Skype. It was unclear if any government troops were killed.
Associated Press writers Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Maria Grazia Murru in Naples, Italy, and Ben Hubbard in Cairo contributed reporting.