Gaddafi loyalists: 'We're united and we will fight for this land'
Muammar Gaddafi may be fighting for his political survival but the citizens of Zawiya, a small, battle-scarred town near Tripoli, are rooting wildly for him.
"Allah, Muammar, Libya wa bas!" (that's all we need) they chanted in the main square on Friday morning, taking turns to impress the interviewer from state-run Jamahiriya TV with displays of energetic loyalty to the "brother leader of the revolution".
Live footage from the town – artfully avoiding signs of damage from the recent fierce fighting – was intercut with archive footage, familiar scenes of Libyans singing the praises of the man who has ruled them for 41 years: a classic combination of agitprop and adulation.
The famously mercurial Gaddafi has not stayed in power for so long without the ability to keep a trick or two up his sleeve. His latest was a classic: a sudden declaration of a ceasefire in response to Thursday's UN security council resolution mandating military action against Libya.
It was a salutary reminder that behind the eccentric appearance and rambling style lies an impressive ability to keep opponents guessing.
But it is also clear that despite the powerful coalition assembled against him he can rely on many people at home who are prepared to do his bidding, and show real resistance to any enemy.
"Libya is not Iraq," warned Munir, a quiet, intense man of 47. "Here we don't have Sunnis and Shias. We are united and we will fight for this land. If we Libyans invaded Britain, would you not resist? Would you not take up arms. Of course you would. It's the same here."
The ceasefire appeared an obvious tactic to buy time, boost doubts and exploit divisions about the wisdom of the measures mandated by the UN. But it also seemed intended far more for foreign than domestic consumption.
For while the government insisted it had taken immediate effect, the mood inside Libya remains one of officially cultivated defiance – Gaddafi's default position when he is in a tight spot. And this is without doubt his worst moment since the US bombing in 1986.
Libyan loyalists don't do understatement, and especially when talk of foreign intervention touches a nerve kept raw by the politics and ideology of the system – sustained by a nationalist narrative of resistance to colonialism and the need to fight conspiracies at home and abroad.
By early afternoon, shortly after the ceasefire announcement, al-Libiya TV was broadcasting a clip of excited volunteers gathered round a man in the olive green uniform of the regular army. "We will fight any decision by the security council," the officer pledged solemnly. "You come from all walks of life, from different tribes, from all parts of Libya. We must liberate the eastern areas of our country."
Peace and reconciliation were not on the agenda. "People are angry at the UN," said Mubarak Saleh, the editor of al-Majallah al-Libiya. "But a ceasefire is not a retreat. What we are expecting now is that the people of Benghazi will rise up against the rebels there."
It was hardly surprising that the opposition rejected the government offer: renewed talk of dialogue rang hollow hours after Gaddafi vowed to capture the city and to show "no mercy, no pity" to those who had taken up arms against the state.
State media continues to pump out messages of sacrifice and determination. Late on Thursday, after the dramatic UN vote, Jamahiriya TV screened an interview with the parents and siblings of a young soldier from Khums who was "martyred" in the Zawiya fighting. It was a heart-rending combination of patriotism and grief, the father brave and combative, his wife barely able to hold back her tears.
Yusuf Shakir, one of Libya's best-known commentators, was visibly moved by this scene but he too showed no sign of being prepared to bend to the will of the international community. "I knew this would happen," he said. "Nobody can predict what will happen now."
Egyptians living in Libya demonstrated on Friday outside UN offices in a leafy side street near the capital's Green Square, with police officers ensuring the situation stayed calm when the state information minders arrived with a group of journalists. "Down with the UN," they chanted. "Where was the UN in Iraq, in Palestine?" one man screamed over a cacophony of abuse and car horns. "What do they want from Libya? This is its internal affair."
Gaddafi is as unpredictable as ever but the ceasefire move suggests he is worried that UN-authorised attacks on his forces could trigger significant defections or even an attempt to unseat him. Long-term partition can hardly be an attractive option for a man who so often vows "unity or death" – though he could retreat to his home town of Sirte, far enough from Benghazi to challenge his enemies to bomb him there.
In quiet conversations, some Libyan officials are prepared to admit that Gaddafi is not an easy leader – but they are also quick to warn that things could be far worse if he did go. "We might hate him, but if this regime crumbles there will be civil war," said one. "There is a long history of conflict in this country between the tribes. If that happens again, thousands will die."