CAIRO Muammar Gaddafi blamed a revolt against his rule on al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Thursday, and said the protesters were fuelled by milk and Nescafe spiked with hallucinogenic drugs, in a rambling appeal for calm.
Gaddafi, who just two days ago vowed in a televised address to crush the revolt and fight to the last, showed none of the fist-thumping rage of that speech.
This time, he spoke to state television by telephone without appearing in person, and his tone seemed more conciliatory, with much of his country out of government control.
"Their ages are 17. They give them pills at night, they put hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafe," said Gaddafi.
"They are criminals ... is it logical that you let this phenomenon continue in any city? ... We do not see what is happening in Egypt and Tunisia happening in Libya, ever!"
"Those (in Egypt and Tunisia) are people needing their governments and they have demands; our power is in the hands of the people," he said, a typical reference to his idiosyncratic rule, which he says is based on giving power direct to the people.
Gaddafi, battling to preserve his 41-year rule and his "Third Universal Theory," outlined in his "Green Book," offered condolences to those killed in the bloodshed and called for calm among people he said were fighting among themselves. Saying bin Laden was "the real criminal," Gaddafi urged Libyans not be swayed by the al Qaeda leader.
Libyan authorities tend to group anyone who challenges the ruling system under the umbrella of al Qaeda, and anyone accused of association with the group is likely to face extrajudicial punishment.
"Bin Laden ... this is the enemy who is manipulating people," Gaddafi said, adding: "Do not be swayed by bin Laden."
"From a national, moral, ethical standpoint ... they should stop. I have no authority stemming from laws or decisions or anything else, I just have moral authority. I only have moral authority," he said.
Gaddafi has long sought to present himself as figurehead of a revolution that is led by the people, rather than a traditional executive head of state.
"No sane person" would join the protests against his rule, Gaddafi said, calling on citizens to disarm those who were protesting.
"Remember in the Iraq war: the United States and Britain said they had reason to intervene. Qaeda and the international terrorists work together ... Saddam Hussein had a relationship to al Qaeda ... look what America did," he said.
Referring to violent clashes taking place in the town of Zawiyah, about 50 km (30 miles) from the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi said: "What is happening in Zawiyah is a farce ... Sane men don't enter such a farce."
"You people of Zawiyah, stop your children, take their weapons, bring them away from Bin Laden, the pills will kill them," he said. "Leave the country calm."
(Reporting by Cairo bureau, Writing by Peter Millership and Edmund Blair)