Moammar Gaddafi demanded that the West leave Libya alone in a speech today to his followers and whatever foreign media remains in Tripoli.  The besieged dictator warned that “thousands of Libyans” would die if NATO or the UN intervened to, er, stop Gaddafi from killing thousands of Libyans:

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has warned “thousands of Libyans” will die if the U.S. or NATO intervene in his country.

Qaddafi was addressing supporters and foreign media on Wednesday in a conference hall in the capital Tripoli as his forces were launching a counteroffensive against parts of the rebel-held eastern half of the country.

This is what Gaddafi says must continue to save those “thousands” of Libyans that would otherwise die in a Western intervention:

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Pro-Qaddafi forces retook control of a key oil installation and port on the coast of the rebel-held eastern half of the country on Wednesday and the regime’s warplanes bombed an ammunition depot on the outskirts of a nearby town also controlled by the opposition, witnesses said.

Ahmed Jerksi, manager of the massive oil installation in the eastern town of Brega on the Mediterranean coast, said pro-Qaddafi forces retook control of the facility at dawn without using force. Breqa is about 125 miles from Libya’s second-largest city Benghazi, the nerve center of the rebel-held east.

A Brega resident, who told CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark he was too scared to leave his home, said he could hear air strikes and rocket fire. Clark, who was headed for the oil hub, heard other reports that a vicious fight was ongoing for control of the town, but said it was unclear who was in control.

Government forces appear to have gained momentum.  They have rolled back earlier losses in the eastern part of the country, possibly including the strategic city of Brega, according to this LA Times report:

Forces loyal to embattled Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi were reported to be moving Wednesday against areas held by the opposition in the country’s east. …

At first, Al Jazeera, citing the channel’s correspondent, reported that pro-Kadafi security forces had taken control there with more than 500 military vehicles. The Al Arabiya channel reported “random bombing” of the city, citing an unnamed eyewitness.

But hours later, an Al Jazeera correspondent was quoted as saying that the opposition forces had retaken the city. Al Arabiya, citing its correspondent in eastern Libya, said that 14 people had been killed so far in the fighting and that forces loyal to Kadafi held the city’s airport.

The report also includes this rather colorful expression of Gaddafi’s love for his fellow Libyans:

He vowed to “gouge the eyes of those casting doubt on the people’s authority.” Crowds of supporters in the venue punched their fists into the air and punctuated his speech with slogans of support.

Gaddafi also declared that “the people are the master,” which appears to be true, as long as they’re the right people.  That appears to be Gaddafi’s criteria for which thousands of Libyans he hopes to preserve rather than massacre, too. Otherwise, Gaddafi would have to acknowledge that a great many of “the people” no longer want him running the country, and aren’t anxious to see how his sons manage the job, either.

This doesn’t mean that the West should stage a military intervention at this point, either.  So far, Russia is balking at granting permission in the UN Security Council for a no-fly zone, which amounts to a declaration of war against Gaddafi’s air force at the very least.  NATO could go without UN approval, but the history there is fraught with potential disaster.  NATO acted “unilaterally” (as unilaterally as a group of nations can act) without UN imprimatur in the Balkans in the 1990s and exacerbated Russian paranoia about its influence on world affairs, especially in a region where Russia invested a great deal of interest, as it traditionally does with Slavs in Eastern Europe.  Libya isn’t the same situation, but snubbing Russia could still carry significant consequences, especially economic, to Europe.

It’s not entirely clear that NATO could impose an effective no-fly zone over Libya, either.  Staging aircraft for such a purpose would be tricky, and Libya still has some effectiveness in anti-aircraft systems.  Gaddafi would have nothing to lose and would likely fight to the last plane, while American and European nations might question the commitment while Afghanistan continues to burn, especially if the West starts losing pilots over the Libyan desert.  With the nature of the opposition still unclear, people might wonder whether Western intervention might just be enabling another Afghanistan outcome in the end.