Rebels overrun HQ, hunt for elusive Gaddafi
Tripoli, August 24, 2011
Libyan rebels hunted on Wednesday for Muammar Gaddafi and battled remnants of his forces after overrunning his compound, even as their leader Mahmoud Jibril was preparing to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy later in the day.
Jibril, the head of the executive committee of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) and who is being referred to as prime minister of the country, will meet Sarkozy in Paris to discuss prospects for a political transition in a post-Muammar Gaddafi era.
France had spearheaded the West's military intervention in Libya with Sarkozy taking a personal gamble less than a year from a presidential election by becoming the first foreign leader to formally support the rebels.
Sarkozy has called for a special 'Friends of Libya' conference to be held in Paris in the next 10 days which could bring together as many as 30 foreign leaders and international organisations to help ease Libya's reconstruction and transition into a democratic state.
Meanwhile in Tripoli, Gaddafi vowed on Wednesday to fight on to death or victory and defiantly urged residents to cleanse Tripoli of 'rats.'
Two powerful blasts thought to be caused by an air attack rocked the capital early in the morning as a Nato warplane flew overhead.
The explosions came during a night of shooting as fighting continued following the storming of Kadhafi's Bab al-Azizya compound by rebel fighters on Tuesday.
The leader of a rebel group said pro-Kadhafi fighters were hiding on the road to Tripoli airport.
Insurgents, jumpy but jubilant and armed with assault rifles, combed the streets for remnants of the regime.
'We are the champions. We've been dying for 42 years and now we are going to live,' said Sharif Sohail, a 34-year-old dentist who took up arms to patrol the city centre.
Other rebel fighters, some wrapped in Free Libya flags, some wearing flackjackets, manned checkpoints through the night, scrutinising traffic by flashlight in neighbourhoods without electricity.
'We are checking every car that passes,' Brahim Mukhtar, 27, said at a main intersection near Souk al-Fatah. 'We are guarding the streets.'
Meanwhile, Opposition leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil pledged in comments published Wednesday that Libya will hold elections in eight months and was adamant that Kadhafi will be tried in the country.
'In eight months we will hold legislative and presidential elections. We want a democratic government and a just constitution,' promised Abdel Jalil, chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC).
'Above all we do not wish to continue to be isolated in the world as we have been up to now,' he added in comments published in the Italian La Repubblica daily.
The whereabouts of Kadhafi and his family, however, remain a mystery.
Rebels said they had found no trace of him when they swarmed through his compound on Tuesday, raiding his armoury, raising their flag and ripping the head off a statue of the strongman.
'Bab al-Azizya is fully under our control now. Colonel Kadhafi and his sons were not there; there is nobody,' said military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Bani. 'No one knows where they are.'
Wherever he may indeed be, the strongman is still managing to get his messages out.
In a speech carried early Wednesday by the website of a television station headed by his son Seif al-Islam, he said he had abandoned his compound in a 'tactical withdrawal' after it had been wrecked by Nato warplanes.
'Bab al-Azizya was nothing but a heap of rubble after it was the target of 64 Nato missiles and we withdrew from it for tactical reasons,' he said. The speech gave no indication of where he had gone.
In a later audio message on Syria-based Arrai Oruba television station, Gaddafi urged 'the residents, the tribes, the elderly to go into the streets...and cleanse Tripoli of rats' -- referring to the rebels.
He also said he had taken to the streets of Tripoli without being recognised. 'I walked incognito, without anyone seeing me, and I saw youths ready to defend their city,' the strongman said, without specifying when he did his walkabout.
Gaddafi spokesman Mussa Ibrahim claimed to the Arrai Oruba channel that more than 6,500 'volunteers' had arrived in Tripoli to fight for the regime, and called for more.
Residents of the capital had celebrated into the early hours of Wednesday following the capture of the Bab al-Azizya compound.
But in the early hours of the morning, the streets grew eerily empty of residents while rebels and loyalists engaged in deadly cat-and-mouse warfare and fears of Kadhafi snipers on rooftops dampened the jubilation.
The attack on Kadhafi's headquarters followed three days of fighting in the capital which Abdel Jalil said had left more than 400 killed and 2,000 wounded. He did not specify if he was talking of both sides.
In an interview with France 24 television, Abdel Jalil also said that some 600 pro-Kadhafi fighters had been captured but the battle would not be over until the Libyan leader himself was a prisoner.
He said three areas of the capital were still resisting, including Abu Slim, from where half-a-dozen mortar bombs fell on Bab al-Azizya late Tuesday.
Rebels said Kadhafi loyalists in his birthplace of Sirte, the last major regime bastion remaining, had fired a missile at rebel-held Misrata, hours after negotiations began to try to secure a surrender of the city.