Libyan rebels seized control of Muammar Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, capturing weapons and documents, as one of their leaders sought to avert a wave of retribution against former regime supporters.
Mahmoud Jebril, a member of the National Transitional Council, called on Libyans to unite and build a “modern nation” without acting on their own to settle scores.
“After the transition and elections, people who suffered injustices will regain their rights,” he said at a press conference in Doha, Qatar.
Rebels broadened their hunt of the elusive Qaddafi as fighting against regime loyalists flared elsewhere, including around the southern city of Sabha, rebel officials said. Sabha is a regime stronghold that is home to a major military base.
“As long as Qaddafi remains in Libya, then there will be no security,” Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice president of the rebel National Transitional Council, said in a telephone interview from Benghazi. “He must be finished off, either through death or capture.”
Oil advanced for a second day amid signs that a recovery in Libyan crude production may take longer than expected. Output from Libya, which has the largest proven reserves of any African country, dropped to 100,000 barrels a day in July, down from the 1.6 million barrels pumped before the uprising started.
Crude for October delivery rose $1.02 to settle at $85.44 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures have fallen 6.5 percent this year.
Brent oil for October settlement gained 95 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $109.31 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The European benchmark contract was at a premium of $23.87 to U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures, down from a record settlement of $26.21 on Aug. 19.
Gunfire and explosions were heard from the presidential headquarters in Bab Al Aziziya after the rebels broke into the heavily fortified compound and raised their flag there, Al Arabiya television reported. NBC News broadcast live reports from inside the compound, in which gunshots could be heard as crowds of young men ran into buildings and around the grounds of the compound. Much of the gunfire was celebratory.
Rebel fighters, some in black-painted jeeps with mounted machine guns, were shown in news broadcasts entering the broken gates of the compound, flashing victory signs. A group of fighters tried to tear down a statue of a gold fist holding a jet, which Qaddafi used as backdrop for speeches. Rebels also advanced across a lawn past a destroyed guard house that may have been hit by NATO bombing.
“It feels perfect,” said Marwan Elgajiji, a rebel fighter in Misrata, said as he watched the images on TV from the capital. “Even if they don’t catch him, they have taken his house so Tripoli is with the revolutionaries.”
Qaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim remained defiant, promising resistance for “months and years” in a speech broadcast by Arabiya television. The regime had carried out preparations “to transform Libya into an open resistance arena till we reach victory,” he said. Forces loyal to Qaddafi had left the presidential compound as it did not “represent any military or logistical benefit,” Ibrahim said.
The news from Tripoli resonated across the region. In Yemen, tens of thousands protested in various cities to cheer the end of the Qaddafi regime and demand serious moves to end the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Son and Heir
“Saleh after Qaddafi,” they chanted as some set off fireworks in celebration. “My people, your victory is upcoming.”
The Libyan rebels’ gains came after intense fighting in parts of Tripoli amid conflicting claims of who controlled the largest share of the city.
Qaddafi’s son and presumed heir, Saif al-Islam, who rebels said they had arrested Aug. 21, appeared in public late Aug. 22 in the capital and told the BBC his father -- who delivered a defiant audio message on state television August 21 -- was safe.
The only other word on Qaddafi’s situation came yesterday from World Chess Federation head Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who played chess with Qaddafi during a June visit to the Libyan capital. He said that he spoke with Qaddafi and his son Mohammed by phone yesterday at about 6 p.m. Moscow time.
‘Fight to End’
Qaddafi has “no plans to leave” Libya and will “fight to the end,” Ilyumzhinov said in a telephone interview. Qaddafi’s son, Mohammed, called Ilyumzhinov in his car in Moscow from a satellite phone in Tripoli and then handed the receiver to his father. The conversation lasted about 90 seconds, Ilyumzhinov said.
Nicaragua, which supported Qaddafi as the uprising against him grew, would grant him political asylum if requested, Bayardo Arce, an adviser to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, told reporters in Managua.
Roland Lavoie, a NATO spokesman, said yesterday he would “not risk going into percentages” on how much of Tripoli the Libyan rebels held. The fighting in the capital is “very serious and very dangerous,” he said.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which began its air campaign in March, and rebel leaders have downplayed the surprise visit by Saif al-Islam to the Rixos Hotel, where many foreign journalists are based.
“A brief appearance in the dead of night doesn’t indicate, to me, somebody who’s in control of a country or capital, or anything much at all really,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told reporters yesterday in Brussels. “It shows that the remnants of the regime are on the run.”
Rebels have encountered resistance in areas around the capital. Opposition fighters were deployed Aug. 22 to areas south of Zliten, 150 kilometers (93 miles) southeast of Tripoli, and missiles have been fired at the coastal town of Misrata, to the east, from Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.
Qaddafi’s forces launched an unguided, short-range missile at the eastern city of Brega two days ago, for the first time during the conflict, NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero told reporters yesterday in Brussels. Rebels have gained hold of the eastern edge of Brega, NATO said.
Poor security at the port in Tripoli delayed the docking of a rescue ship, leaving thousands of foreigners stranded at their embassies, the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration said in a statement yesterday.
Even as the fighting continued, rebel and western leaders looked ahead to a transition of power. U.S. President Barack Obama said Aug. 22 that “the Qaddafi regime is coming to an end, and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged the United Nations Security Council yesterday to pass a resolution allowing countries to release frozen Libyan assets to help finance reconstruction “as soon as possible.”
The U.S. is working to release up to $1.5 billion of frozen Libyan assets, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a briefing in Washington.
Arab foreign ministers, meeting in Doha, yesterday called on the UN Security Council to permit the release of $2.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets to be used to meet humanitarian needs before the holiday of Eid al-Fitr in a week, marking the end of the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan.
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