Gaddafi out of sight

TRIPOLI,  (Reuters) – A son of Muammar Gaddafi who  rebels said they had captured appeared with cheering supporters  in Tripoli, giving a boost to forces loyal to the veteran leader  trying to fight off insurgents who say they control most of the  capital.

Saif Al-Islam, son of Muammar Gaddafi, greets supporters in Tripoli yesterday. Saif told journalists that Libya, which has been largely overrun in the past 24 hours by rebel forces seeking to topple his father, was in fact in government hands and that Muammar Gaddafi was safe. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

Saif al-Islam, who has been seen as his father’s heir  apparent, visited the Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists  are staying to declare that the government was winning the  battle against the rebels.

He took journalists to his father’s Bab al-Aziziyah  stronghold. Television footage showed Saif pumping his fists in  the air, smiling, waving and shaking hands with supporters, as  well as holding his arms aloft with each hand making the V for  victory sign.

“We broke the back of the rebels. It was a trap. We gave  them a hard time, so we are winning,” Saif said.

Saif’s arrest had been reported both by rebels and the  International Criminal Court in The Hague and his appearance  before the foreign media raised questions as to the rebels’  credibility.

He said that Tripoli was under government control and that  he did not care about the arrest warrant issued by the  International Criminal Court seeking him and his father for  crimes against humanity.

Gaddafi himself has not been seen in public since some time  before the rebels arrived in the capital at the weekend. But  when asked if his father was safe and well in Tripoli, Saif told  journalists: “Of course.”

World leaders urged Gaddafi, 69, to surrender to prevent  more bloodshed and appealed for an orderly transition of power,  as the six-month-old battle for control of the oil-producing  North African nation appeared to enter its final stages.

UPRISING
Rebels swept into Tripoli two days ago in tandem with an  uprising within the city. Reuters reporters saw firefights and  clashes with heavy weapons, including anti-aircraft guns, as  rebels tried to flush out snipers and pockets of resistance.

Hundreds seem to have been killed or wounded since Saturday.  But Gaddafi tanks and sharpshooters appeared to hold only small  areas, mainly around the heavily fortified Bab al-Aziziyah  compound in central Tripoli.

Civilians, who had mobbed the streets on Sunday to cheer the  end of dictatorship, stayed indoors as machinegun fire and  explosions punctuated some of the heaviest fighting of the Arab  Spring uprisings that have been reshaping the Middle East.

U.S. President Barack Obama, saying the conflict was not  over yet, cautioned rebels against exacting revenge for  Gaddafi’s brutal rule. “True justice will not come from  reprisals and violence,” he said.

The president also made plain that the United States would  oppose any group within the loose coalition of rebels from  imposing its power over other parts of Libyan society.
“Above all we will call for an inclusive transition that  leads to a democratic Libya,” Obama said.

In an audio broadcast on Sunday before state TV went off the  air, Gaddafi said he would stay in Tripoli “until the end”.  There has been speculation, however, he might seek refuge in his  home region around Sirte, or abroad.

In a sign Gaddafi allies were still determined to fight,  NATO said government forces fired three Scud-type missiles from  the area of Sirte towards the rebel-held city of Misrata.
Bab al-Aziziyah, a huge complex where some believe Gaddafi  might be hiding, was the focal point of fighting in Tripoli.

“I don’t imagine the Bab al-Aziziyah compound will fall  easily and I imagine there will be a fierce fight,” Abdel Hafiz  Ghoga, spokesman for the rebel National Transitional Council,  said in an interview aired by Al-Jazeera.

The Arab network, quoting its correspondent, said violent  clashes were also reported near the oil town of Brega.
Rebels had initially said they held three of Gaddafi’s sons,  including Saif al-Islam. Al-Jazeera TV said that one of them,  Mohammed, had escaped, adding that the body of another son,  military commander Khamis, might have been found along with that  of powerful intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.

 FEARS OF REPRISAL,
        REVENGE       

Western powers are concerned that tribal, ethnic and  political divisions among the diverse armed groups opposed to  Gaddafi could lead to the kind of blood-letting seen in Iraq  after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

In a move that could ease tensions, a rebel official in the  eastern city of Benghazi said, however, that efforts were under  way to make contact with authorities hitherto loyal to Gaddafi.

Foreign governments which had hesitated to take sides, among  them Gaddafi’s Arab neighbours, Russia and China also made clear  his four decades of absolute power were over.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Libyans who said  they represented Gaddafi were making “more desperate” efforts to  negotiate with the United States in the last 24 to 48 hours.
Washington did not take any of them seriously because they  did not indicate Gaddafi’s willingness to step down, she added.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who took an early gamble  on the rebels and may now reap diplomatic benefits, called on  the Gaddafi loyalists “to turn their back on the criminal and  cynical blindness of their leader by immediately ceasing fire”.

Late on Monday, Sarkozy spoke to Britain’s David Cameron by  telephone about the Libya situation, according to a press  release from the French presidential palace.

“They both agreed to pursue efforts in supporting the  legitimate Libyan authorities as long as Colonel Gaddafi refuses  to surrender arms,” the statement read. Paris has offered to  host a summit on Libya soon.

Cameron also spoke to Obama on Monday night.

OIL PRODUCTION  

Western leaders reiterated their refusal to commit military  forces to peacekeeping in Libya, which could mean tackling  rearguard loyalists using urban guerrilla tactics.

NATO has backed the revolt with air power but eschewed the  ground combat that cost U.S. and allied lives in Iraq and  Afghanistan.

Britain’s International Development Secretary Andrew  Mitchell told the BBC there was no possibility of British  military involvement being expanded in Libya.

“We do not see any circumstances in which British troops  would be deployed on the ground in Libya,” he said.

But some governments have had civilian advisers in Benghazi  for months, and the swift military advance of recent days  revived questions about the shadowy role of foreign special  forces on the ground.

First signs emerged of moves to begin restoring oil  production that has been the foundation of the economy and a  source of hope for Libya’s 6 million, mostly poor, people.

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