BENGHAZI, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi came under intensified international pressure Monday to halt attacks on antiregime protesters, with the Pentagon dispatching ships and aircraft to the Mediterranean Sea and the Treasury Department freezing a record $30 billion in assets tied to the dictator and his family.
Forces loyal to Gadhafi launched counterattacks on cities held by rebels in Libya, but apparently failed to dislodge them from the key western city of Zawiya, 30 miles from the capital, Tripoli. There were reports that Gadhafi's government had launched new airstrikes against its opponents.
As new violence flared, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton demanded that the Libyan leader leave. "It is time for Gadhafi to go — now, without further violence or delay," she said at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
But Gadhafi, in an interview with three Western news organizations, laughingly dismissed the idea of ceding power, increasing the likelihood of a long, bloody battle for oil-rich Libya's future.
"How can one believe this statement when he (Gadhafi) says there is absolutely no demonstrations whatsoever?" U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said. "He has declared war on his own people and so he lost totally his legitimacy."
The United Nations has "reports and information (that) suggest quite credible figures of killings in the thousands" of protesters by Gadhafi militiamen and African mercenaries since the insurrection erupted nearly two weeks ago, said Ban, who discussed the crisis earlier in the day with President Barack Obama.
Pentagon spokesmen didn't detail the purpose of the U.S. ship and aircraft movements, but the moves didn't appear to signal direct U.S. military intervention in Libya. Among the ships being sent, reports said, is the USS Kearsarge, which carries nearly 2,000 Marines and dozens of helicopters.
"We have planners working and various contingency plans, and I think it's safe to say as part of that we're repositioning forces to be able to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made," said Marine Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.
In Geneva, Clinton suggested the mission was primarily humanitarian.
"We do believe that there will be the need for support for humanitarian intervention. We also know that there will probably, unfortunately, be the need for rescue missions" because of the large numbers of people fleeing Libya and neighboring Tunisia, she said. "But there is not any pending military action involving U.S. naval vessels."
In Benghazi, liberated from Gadhafi's control, residents strongly oppose outside military intervention in what they consider a purely Libyan revolution.
"No foreign intervention. We don't want to be like Iraq," said Ahmed Sukaya Pobaee, a lieutenant in the new anti-Gadhafi army.
The State Department said it's dispatching aid teams to Libya's refugee-choked borders with Egypt and Tunisia. The United Nations is stockpiling medicines and foods to rush into Libya on the eastern border with Egypt, Ban said, but the Gadhafi regime is refusing to allow the organization into Tripoli to do the same there.
On the financial front, David Cohen, the Treasury Department's acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said at least $30 billion in assets belonging to Gadhafi and his family, and to Libya's central bank, had been frozen.
The European Union also imposed new sanctions on Gadhafi's regime Monday, banning weapons sales and freezing the assets of senior Libyan officials.
Gadhafi, facing an uprising that threatens to end his nearly 42 years of control over Libya, was launching counterattacks at several locations controlled by the rebels, residents reached by phone said. The main flash points appeared to be the cities of Zawiya, 30 miles west of Tripoli, and Misrata, Libya's third-largest city 125 miles east of Tripoli.
The committees of prominent citizens, former officials and military defectors that have emerged to run rebellious towns and cities are still embroiled in fighting off attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces, as in the case of Zawiya, or organizing themselves to provide for their defenses and essential services and establishing contacts with each other.
Gadhafi, in the interview with Western media, denied that people were protesting against him in Zawiya — even though international journalists on a government-sponsored tour had witnessed antiregime forces in control of the city.
"No, none were against us. … They love me. . . . They will die to protect me, my people," the Libyan dictator told the journalists in Tripoli.
Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters that Gadhafi sounds "delusional," that he is "slaughtering his own people" and that his attitude in the interviews "underscores how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is from reality."
Reports that Gadhafi had bombed his opponents from the air were likely to intensify calls in the United States and Europe of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya's airspace.