‘We broke the back of the rebels. It was a trap,’ says Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam
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
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
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.
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.
US 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.
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"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
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
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 US 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
Cameron also spoke to Obama on Monday night.
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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 US 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. Staff from Italy's Eni arrived to look
into restarting facilities, said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
Italy, Libya's nearest European neighbour and the colonial
power until World War Two, is a big customer for Libyan energy. But it will
face stiff competition from others seeking a share of Libya's wealth - a
competition some fear could test the ability of untried rebel leaders to hold
the country together.