TRIPOLI, Libya -- Moammar Gadhafi struck a defiant stance yesterday after two high-profile defections from his regime, saying the Western leaders who have decimated his military with airstrikes should resign immediately.

The White House said the strongman's inner circle was clearly crumbling with the loss of Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, who flew from Tunisia to England on Wednesday. Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former foreign minister and UN General Assembly president, announced his departure on several opposition websites yesterday, saying, "It is our nation's right to live in freedom and democracy and enjoy a good life."

Gadhafi attempted to appear undaunted, accusing the leaders of the countries attacking his forces of being "affected by power madness." "The solution for this problem is that they resign immediately and their peoples find alternatives to them," the Libya state news agency quoted him as saying.

His government's forces appeared to have retaken some momentum on the rapidly moving front line of the battle with opposition forces, retaking the town of Brega after pushing the rebels miles back toward the territory they hold in eastern Libya.

The rebels said they were undaunted, taking heart from the departures in Gadhafi's inner circle.

Opposition spokesman Mustafa Gheriani compared Gadhafi to a wounded animal: "An injured wolf is much more dangerous than a healthy wolf. But we hope the defections continue, and I think he'll find himself with no one around him."

Koussa is privy to all the inner workings of the regime, so his departure could open the door for some hard intelligence, though Britain refused to offer him immunity from prosecution.

"Koussa is one of the pillars of Gadhafi's regime since the 1970s," said Abdel Moneim al-Houni, a former Libyan Arab League representative who was among the first wave of Libyan diplomats to defect this month. "His defection means that he knew that the end of Gadhafi is coming and he wanted to jump from the sinking boat."

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