Gadhafi Urges Residents to Clear Tripoli of Rebels

Posted August 24th, 2011 at 6:20 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has urged residents of the capital, Tripoli, to clear the city of rebels, after the opposition fighters overran his compound, taking weapons, television sets and souvenirs from the site.

In a message broadcast Wednesday, Mr. Gadhafi also said he had discreetly gone out in Tripoli without being seen, but did not say when that occurred.

A pro-government television channel quoted Mr. Gadhafi earlier as saying he had retreated from the Bab al-Aziziya compound in a “tactical move” after dozens of NATO strikes there. Al-Rai TV reported Wednesday that Mr. Gadhafi addressed Libyans on a local radio station, saying he vowed martyrdom or victory in his fight against what he called NATO aggression.

Residents in Tripoli celebrated early Wednesday after the rebels stormed the Bab al-Aziziya compound, despite finding no sign of the embattled leader or his family.

The raid came after three days of fighting in Tripoli that the head of the rebel Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said had left more than 400 people killed and 2,000 wounded. He did not specify whether he was talking of both sides.

Jalil also told France-24 Television that some 600 pro-Gadhafi fighters had been captured but that the battle would not be over until the Libyan leader himself was a prisoner. Tripoli's new rebel military chief, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, said late Tuesday that a small area of the vast Gadhafi compound was still under government control.

The rebels' de-facto prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, is set to meet Wednesday in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose office said the two will discuss the situation in Libya and international efforts to support a political transition.

Gun battles flared across the capital Tuesday as pro-Gadhafi fighters blockaded foreign journalists in their hotel. Meanwhile, residents in the Libyan port city of Zuara, near the Tunisian border, said loyalist forces continued to pound the town with mortars and rockets.

U.S. officials in Washington said Tuesday they believe Mr. Gadhafi is still in Libya. In New York, Libya's Deputy U.N. Ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, told reporters he expects Tripoli to be completely liberated within the next three days.

Meanwhile, Libyan rebels say they also have taken control of the eastern oil port of Ras Lanuf Tuesday. The major oil port is east on the road to Mr. Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte.

In addition to parts of Tripoli, pro-government forces also control at least two major cities affiliated with his tribe – Sabha, to the south, and Sirte, some 450 kilometers east of the capital along the coast.

A NATO spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, told reporters in Brussels that NATO's mission in Libya is not over, and that it will continue military operations until all attacks and threats of attacks against civilians have stopped. The spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie added that NATO forces are not specifically targeting Mr. Gadhafi, but that the alliance will strike “wherever is necessary” in Libya to protect civilians.

Mr. Gadhafi's whereabouts remain unknown. But his son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, defiantly appeared in the city early Tuesday saying his father was still in Tripoli and that his government was still in control.

The rebels earlier claimed to have arrested Seif al-Islam, but he spoke to foreign journalists at the Gadhafi-controlled Rixos Hotel, then led a convoy of vehicles through loyalist areas, where television footage showed him pumping his fists in the air as supporters cheered him on.

Senior rebel sources also said another of Mr. Gadhafi's sons – Mohammed – escaped house arrest Monday. A third son apparently is still in detention.

Opposition council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil said Mr. Gadhafi will receive a fair trial if captured.