'Mad Dog' Gaddafi to Libyans: Get ready to fight

Colonel Gaddafi has urged Libyans to arm themselves for the "battle to liberate" the country from traitors and Nato.

During a live speech broadcast on state television, the tyrant told supporters to "get ready to fight". He said: "Move forward, challenge, pick up your weapons, go to the fight for liberating Libya inch by inch from the traitors and from Nato."

"Get ready for the fight... The blood of martyrs is fuel for the battlefield." Gaddafi, making his first public address since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan two weeks ago, spoke by telephone. The sound quality was poor and cut out completely several times during his speech. 

The broadcast came as rumours circulated on the internet about the veteran leader's imminent departure into exile. Britain today hailed key advances by rebels and insisted there would not let up in the campaign against Gaddafi.

Downing Street said assaults on two strategically-important towns near Tripoli demonstrated that "progress" was being made. Fierce fighting has been reported in Zawiya, just 30 miles west of the capital, and Gharyan, 50 miles to the south. If the towns fall to the rebels, they could effectively block land access to the dictator's stronghold, while Nato controls sea routes.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said: "We have seen some progress over the weekend. Clearly that is welcome. "We have been saying for some time that we think the Nato operation is proving successful in eroding Gaddafi's ability to wage war against his own people. "We are going to continue to apply that pressure and we will be patient and persistent in doing so until Gaddafi stops brutalising his people."