Africa

Libya unrest: Fighting in Tripoli as loyalists hold out

  • 24 August 2011
  • From the section Africa

Libyan rebels and forces loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi have fought running battles in Tripoli, a day after the fugitive leader's compound was overrun.

There have been fierce firefights in Bab al-Aziziya, as well as in several southern and central areas of the city.

However, foreign journalists have been allowed to leave a hotel where they have been confined for several days.

Col Gaddafi's whereabouts are unknown, but overnight he vowed in a speech to fight until victory or martyrdom.

A pro-regime television channel, al-Uruba, broadcast an audio statement in which he said his decision to leave his Bab al-Aziziya compound was a "tactical" move.

He urged Libyans to cleanse the streets of "traitors, infidels and rats", and said he had "been out a bit in Tripoli discreetly, without being seen".

"It did not feel like Tripoli had fallen or someone had marched into it."

Later, the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) offered an amnesty to anyone within Col Gaddafi's "inner circle" who captured or killed him. It said a Libyan businessman was also offering a $1.67m (£1m) reward.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi told the UK's Channel 4 News that it appeared Col Gaddafi had exhausted all his options, including fleeing abroad, and that his rule "was over".

The deputy head of Libyan intelligence, Gen Khalifa Mohammed Ali, later declared his allegiance to the rebels in an interview with Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV channel.

Rebel commanders had earlier said it was vital to capture Col Gaddafi to eliminate any chance he could strike back.

They insisted it was only a matter of time before he was found, but conceded they had no indication of where he might have taken refuge.

One rebel official, who gave his name as Abdul Rahman, told the Reuters news agency that it was thought that Col Gaddafi was still in Tripoli, possibly in the al-Hadhba al-Khadra area, where there was fighting.

He is also believed to retain a strong following in two other cities - Sirte, his hometown 450km (280 miles) to the east of the capital, and Sabha, 650km to the south in the desert.

A rebel spokesman told the BBC that negotiations were going on with local leaders in both locations seeking a peaceful end to the conflict.

'Fight to the death'

Despite thousands of rebel fighters overrunning Col Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli on Tuesday, they were still meeting fierce resistance from well-armed loyalists on Wednesday.

The BBC's Wyre Davies reports that the rebels are using heavy weapons to try to destroy walls and flush out gunmen entrenched in the centre of the compound, but it is still a very precarious situation.

Many of the loyalists are members of the fugitive leader's tribe or professional soldiers, and are prepared to fight to the death, our correspondent adds.

There was also heavy gunfire earlier in the area around the capital's Rixos Hotel, where about 30 foreign journalists - including a five-person team from the BBC - were confined for several days by Gaddafi loyalists armed with automatic weapons. They have all now been allowed to leave.

"When we got driven out, we discovered we had been inside a 200 sq m piece of Tripoli, where two gunmen believed that they were fighting still on behalf of Col Gaddafi, and that the battle was still going on for Tripoli even though the whole world had seen the city had fallen," said the BBC's Matthew Price, who was among those trapped.

Later, Italy's foreign ministry said four Italian journalists had been kidnapped near the western city of Zawiya.

There were also reports that the fighting had spread to the areas of Abu Salim and al-Zuwara, where rebel forces have reportedly seized the Mazraq al-Shams army base.

Witnesses say armed residents in Tripoli are continuing to man makeshift checkpoints with the help of rebel fighters.

Law and order does not appear to have broken down and celebrations have been continuing in Green Square.

The National Transitional Council estimates that about 400 people have been killed and thousands injured in the battle for Tripoli since Sunday.

The International Red Cross says the fighting in Tripoli has left many civilians injured. A spokesman said doctors were finding it difficult to reach hospitals in and around the capital because of continuing battles.

Funding appeal

Earlier, an NTC spokesman told the BBC it had started the process of moving its headquarters to Tripoli from its stronghold of Benghazi.

He said several council members were already in the capital and others were on their way.

But the BBC's Jon Leyne in Benghazi said that with Gaddafi loyalists still fighting back, a full move has been postponed until next week at the earliest.

The rebels also confirmed on Wednesday that their swift advance on Tripoli was part of a long-planned operation - Mermaid Dawn - that was co-ordinated with Nato. About 150 rebel supporters from Tripoli were trained in Benghazi then sent undercover to the capital, to wait for the signal to fight. A deal was also reportedly done with the head of the battalion in charge of protecting Tripoli's gates.

The head of the NTC's cabinet, Mahmoud Jibril, said it was seeking $2.5bn (£1.5bn) in immediate aid.

Its immediate priority is to pay employees' salaries and cover humanitarian costs but, in the longer term, money will be needed to repair Libya's oil infrastructure.

The NTC estimates that Libya has some $160-170bn in frozen assets. Diplomats say the US will present a draft resolution at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday evening asking it to release $1.5bn of assets for humanitarian needs. A vote is expected on Thursday or Friday.

Following talks with Mr Jibril in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would continue to provide military support "as long as our Libyan friends need it".

Mr Sarkozy also announced that he had invited the countries he regarded as "friends of Libya" to talks in Paris on 1 September to discuss the country's future.

Nato air strikes have been targeting Col Gaddafi's forces, acting on a UN mandate to protect civilians. Critics accuse it of siding with the rebels.

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