TRIPOLI, Libya, Feb. 28, 2011— -- I interviewed Col. Moammar Gadhafi this evening, when he told me he could not step down because he is not a president or king, and denied there were demonstrations against him anywhere in Libya.
"They love me. All my people with me, they love me," he said. "They will die to protect me, my people."
We conducted the interview at a beachfront restaurant in the Corniche, a coastal road on Tripoli's Mediterranean coast. Dressed in his flowing trademark robes and gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses, Gadhafi looked every inch the flamboyant character he's known to be. The longtime leader, who didn't seem to be surrounded by huge amounts of security, seemed relaxed and focused. Walking unabashedly into the restaurant, Gadhafi wanted to show he's not hiding in any underground bunker and that he believes he's still very much in charge.
Gadhafi said he wanted to speak to the press to get the truth out, and he spent more than an hour with us trying to put forth his side of the story.
The Libyan leader laughed when I asked him whether he would step down in response to calls against violence by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama.
"Would anyone leave his homeland? Why would I leave Libya?" Gadhafi said, laughing.
He invited the United Nations and any other organization to come to Libya and do a "fact finding mission" and questioned how they could freeze assets, impose sanctions and an arms embargo, and implement a travel ban based purely on media reports alone.
The current uprising is the most serious challenge posed to Gadhafi's leadership since he came to power in 1969. The 11-day revolt has turned the international community against Gadhafi and spurred the United Nations to impose new sanctions against him.
Just today, a funeral for one of the protesters killed last week in Tripoli turned into a small anti-Gadhafi rally. At Tripoli's central hospital, a doctor confirmed that he received the bodies of nine people shot to death during protests.
But Gadhafi's version of the truth seemed to be at odds with what people have been talking about and reporting here, and he does not seem to fully comprehend the drama and the magnitude of what's going on around him.
He said he would not be leaving Libya, and denied -- in very strong terms -- using any force against his people. I asked him several times about reports that aerial bombardments had been used against protesters, but Gadhafi said they did not happen and that they had only bombed military and ammunition depots.
He seemed to be in complete denial about the protests against him, and that other big cities in Libya, particularly those in the east, had been taken by his opponents.
He simply rejected the notion that any walls were closing in on him. He denied he was besieged in the capital and said he would survive the current situation.
Gadhafi reiterated his mantra, saying he's not president and he's not in a formal position. Libya is ruled by the people, and he is one of the people, he told ABC News.
Gadhafi instead blamed al Qaeda for encouraging young people to seize arms from military installations.