Hunted in Tripoli, Gaddafi hurls defiance

TRIPOLI, (Reuters) – Fugitive strongman Muammar Gaddafi taunted his Libyan enemies and their Western backers  from his hiding place as NATO targeted his hometown and rebels announced a move to govern the country from Tripoli.

A Libyan rebel fighter fires his heavy machine gun during a fight for the final push to flush out Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Abu Salim district in Tripoli yesterday.

Rumours of Gaddafi or his sons being cornered, even sighted, swirled among excitable rebel fighters engaged in heavy  machinegun and rocket exchanges. But even after his compound was  overrun on Tuesday, hopes of a swift end to six months of war  were still being frustrated by fierce rearguard actions.

Western powers demanded Gaddafi’s surrender and worked to  help the opposition start developing the trappings of government  and bureaucracy lacking in the oil-producing state that has been  ruled by an eccentric personality cult for the past 42 years.

The United States and South Africa struck a deal to allow  the release of $1.5 billion in frozen funds for humanitarian aid  and other civilian needs, U.N. diplomats said.
But with loyalists holding out in the capital, in Gaddafi’s  coastal home city and deep in the inland desert, violence could  go on for some time, testing the ability of the  government-in-waiting to keep order when it moves from its  eastern stronghold.

“The tribes … must march on Tripoli,” Gaddafi said in an  audio message broadcast on a sympathetic TV channel. “Do not  leave Tripoli to those rats, kill them, defeat them quickly.

“The enemy is delusional, NATO is retreating,” he shouted,  sounding firmer and clearer than in a similar speech released on  Wednesday. Though his enemies believe Gaddafi, 69, is still in  the capital, they fear he could flee by long-prepared escape  routes, using tunnels and bunkers, to rally an insurgency.

Diehards numbering perhaps in the hundreds were keeping at  bay squads of irregular, anti-Gaddafi fighters who had swept  into the capital on Sunday and who were now rushing from one  site to another, firing assault rifles, machineguns and  anti-aircraft cannon bolted to the backs of pick-up trucks.

In a southern district close to the notorious prison of Abu  Salim, rebel forces launched a concerted assault, sweeping from  house to house and taking prisoners.

Hunt  for Gaddafi   

Elsewhere, pro-Gaddafi forces shelled rebel positions at  Tripoli’s airport, and NATO warplanes bombed Sirte to the east  — Gaddafi’s birthplace.

The rebels’ Colonel Hisham Buhagiar said they were targeting  several areas in their hunt for Gaddafi. “We are sending special  forces every day to hunt down Gaddafi. We have one unit that  does intelligence and other units that hunt him down,” he said.

While random gunfire broke out periodically across Tripoli,  some of its 2 million residents ventured out to stock up on  supplies for the first time in days.

Aid agencies sounded an alarm about food, water and medical  supplies, especially for hundreds of wounded. But the new  leadership said it had found huge stockpiles in Tripoli which  would ease the shortages.

In a sign Libya’s rebel authority was gradually taking over  the levers of power from Gaddafi, National Transitional Council  official Ali Tarhouni said the body had begun its planned move  from Benghazi to Tripoli.

“I proclaim the beginning of the resumption of the work of  the executive office in Tripoli,” Tarhouni, who is in charge of  oil and financial matters for the council, told reporters at a  briefing in the capital.

The shift is seen as a crucial step to smoothing over rifts  in the country, fragmented by regional and tribal divisions,  particularly between east and west.

Nonetheless, in order to begin installing an administration  to offer jobs to young men now bearing arms and to heal ethnic,  tribal and other divisions that have been exacerbated by civil  war, Libya’s new masters are anxious for hard cash quickly.

The deal between the United States and South Africa would  allow the release of the funds without a Security Council vote  on a draft resolution that Washington submitted on Wednesday  after South Africa blocked a U.S. request to disburse the money  in the U.N. Libya sanctions committee, U.N. diplomats said.

Some governments, notably in Africa where there was some  sympathy for Gaddafi’s view of his Western enemies as  colonialist aggressors, had been reluctant to agree to it.

Speaking in Italy, the head of the rebel government, Mahmoud  Jibril said the uprising, the bloodiest so far of the Arab  Spring, could fall apart if funds were not forthcoming quickly:  “The biggest destabilising element would be the failure … to  deliver the necessary services and pay the salaries of the  people who have not been paid for months.

“Our priorities cannot be carried out by the government  without having the necessary money immediately,” he said.

 Fear of failure       

After a meeting of officials in Istanbul, the Contact Group  of allies against Gaddafi called on Libyans to avoid revenge.

“The participants attached utmost importance to the  realisation of national reconciliation in Libya,” it said. “They  agreed that such a process should be based on principles of  inclusiveness, avoidance of retribution and vengeance.”

Gaddafi’s opponents fear that he may rally an insurgency, as  did Saddam Hussein in Iraq, should he remain at large and,  perhaps, in control of funds salted away for such a purpose.

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