24 Aug 2011

Hunt for Gaddafi after compound seized

10:21 pm on 24 August 2011

The hunt is on for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi after his compound was seized by rebel forces following NATO air strikes in Tripoli.

The large Bab al-Aziziya compound has been destroyed and there is speculation that Colonel Gaddafi is in his stronghold of Sirte, or in the south of the country.

A spokesperson for the rebels' National Transitional Council says it is only a matter of time before the 69-year-old is arrested.

Pro-Gaddafi al-Urubah TV said Colonel Gaddafi made an audio speech, saying the retreat from the compound was a "tactical move". He claimed to have been out in Tripoli discreetly without being seen and felt that the city was not in danger.

There have been more celebrations in Green Square and television footage showed rebels breaking the head off a statue of Colonel Gaddafi and kicking it along the ground, the BBC reports.

However, there are still pockets of resistance in Tripoli, including the Abu Salim and al-Hadba districts, and near the Hotel Rixos, where several foreign journalists and nationals are trapped.

A BBC correspondent reports it is a desperate situation for about 35 foreign nationals. He said the situation deteriorated badly overnight on Tuesday when it became clear that they were unable to leave the hotel of their own free will. The area is controlled by pro-Gaddafi forces and surrounded by snipers.

The correspondent says there is a real sense that this is the end of Colonel Gaddafi's 42-year rule, but the proper celebrations will not begin until he and his family are found. Many residents are also still very much on the edge, wary of what his regime might do.

Earlier on Tuesday, Colonel Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi spoke to journalists at the Rixos Hotel insisting that the government had ''broken the backbone'' of the rebel offensive and that his father's supporters were winning the battle.

Western politicians, rebel leaders and the NATO have dismissed his claims.

Libyan rebels say 400 people have died and 2000 have been wounded since in three days of fighting with pro-Gaddafi forces in Tripoli. National Transition Council chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil says 600 of Colonel Gaddafi's troops have been captured.

The rebels say they are now negotiating with the people of Sirte - Colonel Gaddafi's birthplace and stronghold - to achieve a peaceful resolution.

Planning, funding for new government

The National Transitional Council has declared itself the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people and formed an interim government.

Members of council in Benghazi said they planned to fly to Tripoli on Wednesday to start work on forming a new government.

National Transition Council chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil also said all Gaddafi aides would face justice and fair criminal trials.

''I will stand trial for years I served as a minister in the Gaddafi government,'' he told a news conference. He advised Libyans to be tolerant, saying they should ''avoid taking matters into their own hands and ... abide by court rulings''.

Meanwhile, Turkey announced on Tuesday it is giving $US300 million to the National Transitional Council, including funds to form the new government.

More than 30 countries, including the United States, major European Union members, Egypt, Bahrain and New Zealand now recognise council as the legitimate representative of Libya.

American's State Department says the US is seeking to release frozen Libyan assets to the council of between $US1-1.5 billion.