Gaddafi dismisses protest reports, blames al Qaeda

TRIPOLI Wed Mar 2, 2011 12:32pm GMT

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi Wednesday dismissed news accounts of protests in Libya, blamed unrest on al Qaeda, and said reports of deaths were exaggerated, suggesting only 150 people had died.

Foreign estimates suggest 2,000 may have died.

"There were no protests at all in the east," he said in a speech.

"Al Qaeda's cells attacked security forces and took over their weapons," he said, adding: "How did that all begin? Small, sleeper al Qaeda cells."

"News reached the world from stations and agencies that did not have correspondents in Libya," he said.

During his speech one woman interrupted and shouted: "How can you go? You will not go and you will never leave! You are all that is good!... You are a sword that does not bend!"

(Writing by Edmund Blair in Cairo)

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