1 hr 16 mins ago

TRIPOLI – Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi dispatched forces to a western border area on Tuesday in defiance of Western military and economic pressure, stirring fears that the bloodiest Arab revolt may grow more violent.

As the West weighed military options, suspicions grew that the veteran leader, in power for 41 years, did not grasp the strength of the forces now gathering against him.

In Moscow, a Kremlin source suggested Gaddafi should step down, calling him a "living political corpse who has no place in the modern civilized world," Interfax news agency reported.

But Gaddafi appeared oblivious to outside pressure.

"All my people love me. They would die to protect me," he told the U.S. ABC network and the BBC on Monday, dismissing the significance of a rebellion against his 41-year rule that has ended his control over much of eastern Libya.

Barely 12 hours after the United States said it was moving warships and air forces closer to the north African oil exporting country, Libyan forces re-asserted their presence at the remote Dehiba southern border crossing on Tuesday, decorating the border post with green Libyan flags.

Reporters on the Tunisian side saw Libyan army vehicles, and soldiers armed with Kalashnikov rifles. The previous day, there was no Libyan security presence at the border crossing. Dehiba is about 60 km (40 miles) from the town of Nalut.

In another part of the west, residents said pro-Gaddafi forces deployed to reassert control of Nalut, about 60 km from the Tunisian border in western Libya, to ensure it did not fall into the hands of anti-Gaddafi protesters.

Around the Libyan capital there were queues outside bread shops on Tuesday morning. Some residents said many bread shops were limiting the number of loaves customers could buy, forcing people to visit several to get needed supplies.

"The situation is nervous," said Salah, a 35-year-old doctor at one bread shop where about 15 people were queuing outside.

"Of course I am worried. My family is afraid. They are waiting at home. We have been hearing gun-fire.

"But the people are together. I hope the situation calms down. I am 35 and this is the first time I saw something like this in Libya. It is very scary."

A resident in the rebel-held town of Zawiyah, 50 km west of Tripoli, told Reuters by telephone that there had been a low-key skirmish with pro-Gaddafi forces on the outskirts of the town overnight but that the situation was now calm.

"Our guys opened fire at a checkpoint. They (pro-Gaddafi forces) ran away. We have their anti-aircraft gun and many Kalashnikovs, which they left. Three soldiers died on their side," said the resident, who did not want to be identified.

The United States said on Monday it was moving ships and planes closer to the country and British Prime Minister David Cameron said his government would work to prepare a "no-fly" zone to protect the Libyan people.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on world powers to fully implement the U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya. The text, adopted on Saturday, includes a freeze on Muammar Gaddafi's assets, travel ban and referring his regime's brutal crackdown to the International Criminal Court.

Injecting a note of caution into Western military thinking, France said humanitarian aid must be the priority in Libya rather than military action to oust Gaddafi.

The French government has sent two airplanes with medical equipment and staff to the Libyan city of Benghazi, now in the hands of anti-Gaddafi rebels, and more planes are to follow, government spokesman Francois Baroin said.