Rebels attempting to complete their takeover of Tripoli faced stubborn resistance, with fighting erupting around Gaddafi’s Bab–al Azizia compound, which fell into rebel hands on Tuesday.
Hours after thousands of Libyans poured on to the streets of the capital to celebrate the downfall of the dictator, he went on the airwaves to broadcast a message of defiance.
In an audio address, Gaddafi called on the people of Tripoli to rise up and liberate the city from the rebels. Vowing victory or martyrdom, he insisted that he was still in the city and even taunted his opponents by claiming to have toured the streets. “All Libyans must be present in Tripoli, young men, tribal men and women must sweep through Tripoli and comb it for traitors,” he said on the Al–Rai television network. “I have been out a bit in Tripoli discreetly without being seen by people, and I did not feel that Tripoli was in danger.”
The message appeared to have buoyed his supporters, who launched a series of counter–offensives across the country. Rebels who were out on the streets celebrating previous successes were forced to run for cover and take up arms again as they were shelled from an area close to the Rixos hotel, where 35 foreign journalists had been held. The road to Tripoli’s airport was also closed by fire from pro–government snipers.
While reports suggested that 90 per cent of the capital was under rebel control, Gaddafi loyalists defended their remaining strongholds strongly. Fighting was centred in the neighbourhood of Abu Salim, where Gaddafi was rumoured to he in hiding.
With no sign of the former leader, a £1million bounty was offered for his capture dead or alive. The rebel leadership also offered members of his inner circle an amnesty if they turned him in. The reward, which was put up by wealthy Libyan businessmen, was approved by the National Transitional Council — the country’s de facto government.
The council is growing increasingly concerned that Gaddafi may seek exile in a sympathetic foreign state. Nicaragua became the first country to make an offer of sanctuary, with an adviser to President Daniel Ortega saying the government would consider giving him asylum. Burkino Faso also said it would consider offering Gaddafi refuge.
Rebels attempting to snuff out remaining pockets of resistance elsewhere in Libya also met stiff opposition. There was renewed fighting around Gaddafi’s home city of Sirte, about 500 miles from Tripoli, where loyalists launched Scud missiles at the rebel stronghold of Misurata. Nato aircraft later carried out a series of bombardments on Gaddafi’s compound in the city, where he is rumoured to have stockpiled a large arsenal.
There was also intense fighting in the port city of Ras Lanuf, and Zuwarah in the west.
Four Italian journalists were kidnapped and their driver killed as they travelled towards Tripoli.