Libyan Rebels Control Most of Tripoli as Qaddafi Remains Elusive

Libyan rebels gained control of most of Tripoli, the nation’s capital, as they and western leaders declared an end to the the 42-year rule of Muammar Qaddafi.

“The era of Qaddafi is over,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the rebel National Transitional Council, said today at a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi. He called on rebel fighters to avoid reprisals, respect human rights and treat prisoners of war well.

Still, Qaddafi himself remained elusive, and some loyalists continued to fight. The rebels control 90 percent of the city, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.

Rebels for a time held three of Qaddafi’s sons captured during the advance into Tripoli, although one of them, Mohammed, later escaped from house arrest, according to Al Jazeera.

“The Qaddafi regime is coming to an end, and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people,” U.S. President Barack Obama said today.

“We have reports of regime elements threatening to continue fighting,” Obama said from the vacation house where he’s staying on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. “Although it’s clear that Qaddafi’s rule is over, he still has the opportunity to reduce further bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya.”

Obama promised aid to help Libya transition to a new government. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened a conference call from New York today with foreign ministers from 11 countries to discuss international aid, Nuland said.

‘Without Conditions’

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said that “Qaddafi must stop fighting, without conditions -- and clearly show that he has given up any claim to control Libya.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said forces loyal to Qaddafi should lay down their arms and reject his “cynical and criminal blindness,” according to a statement released by the Elysee Palace in Paris.

Brent oil tumbled as much as 3.2 percent in London, narrowing its record premium to the main U.S. oil grade, on speculation Libyan production will recover. Output from Libya, which has the largest proven oil reserves of any African country, dropped to 100,000 barrels a day in July, down from the

1.6 million barrels the nation pumped before the uprising started.

Brent oil for October settlement dropped 48 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $108.14 a barrel at 3:02 p.m. in New York on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The contract has climbed 14 percent this year.

Oil Prices

Crude oil for September delivery gained $1.86, or 2.3 percent, to settle at $84.12 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The September contract expires today.

Shares of European companies with business in Libya, including Eni SpA and Total SA, gained on the prospect of an end to the conflict.

The uprising, inspired by the popular revolts that ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, began in February and spread from the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Until this month, opposition fighters had struggled to take and hold government-controlled territory.

Al Jazeera broadcast video of residents in Tripoli’s Green Square singing national songs and firing into the air to celebrate the rebels’ advance. Some raised the rebel flag and others ripped up a poster of Qaddafi. Opposition forces took control of the state television and radio headquarters, Arabiya reported, shortly after state TV went off air.

‘Hopeful Moment’

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he will convene an “urgent” meeting on Libya’s future with the heads of the African Union, the Arab League, the European Union and a coalition of Islamic nations.

Ban, speaking to reporters in New York, said that the meeting likely would be held Aug. 25 or 26 and that he is also calling for a meeting of the Security Council to give the UN a mandate to assist Libya’s transition to a new government.

“This is a hopeful moment,” Ban said. “It is testimony to the courage and determination of the Libyan people to seek a free and democratic future.”

Besides the three sons captured by rebels, a fourth, Mutassim, was inside the Bab Al Azizia compound, Al Arabiya cited rebels as saying. A fifth, Khamis, led a column of loyalist soldiers toward the city center where they clashed with rebel fighters, it reported.

Qaddafi’s Sons

Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, considered his heir to power, was arrested in Tripoli, said Mohamad Al Akari, an adviser to the National Transitional Council, the rebel governing body. The International Criminal Court is in talks with the council about the surrender of Saif al-Islam to the court, Fadi El-Abdallah, spokesman for the ICC, said by telephone today from its headquarters in The Hague.

Qaddafi’s eldest son, Mohammed, was arrested after rebels stormed his house, according to Al Jazeera, which later reported he had escaped from house arrest. A third, Saadi, has been detained, Al Arabiya said.

Muammar Qaddafi should be captured alive and put on trial for crimes against the Libyan people, Abdel Jalil said.

“I think Qaddafi is still in the country, the fighters will turn over every stone to find him, arrest him, and put him in court,” Mahmoud Al-Nakou, Libyan charge d’affaires to the U.K., said in a televised press conference in London today.

“We’ve been planning this for the past four, five months,” Akari said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. After Tripoli’s fall, it will take about a week to clear out pockets of Qaddafi defenders “to be sure we’re a safe city.”

NATO Monitoring

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will continue to deploy aircraft over Libya and monitor any remaining threats from Qaddafi’s forces, an alliance official said by phone from Brussels.

The fighting yesterday killed 376 and wounded more than 1,000 in Tripoli, according to Al Arabiya, citing unidentified Libyan government officials.

Cameron told reporters that there was still “extremely fierce” fighting in Tripoli and “there can be no complacency” over the outcome. Cameron made his statement outside his residence in central London after breaking off a vacation in southwest England to chair a meeting of the National Security Council.

The rebel advance on Tripoli followed weeks of stalemate. Qaddafi has told his followers to keep fighting the rebels and to resist the NATO air strikes.

’Never Give Up’

“We will never give up,” he said in an audio statement played on Libyan state television yesterday. “I am with you” in Tripoli, he said, calling on local citizens and his tribesmen to defend the city “until our last drop of blood.”

The rebel council will appoint a transitional government after moving its headquarters to the capital from Benghazi, in eastern Libya, Al-Nakou said. “Today, we start to rebuild Libya. We look forward to building a democratic country.”

Besides restoring order, the rebel council was prepared to quickly recover the country’s oil production for much-needed income, Akari said. Except for the refinery at Brega, damage was not major, he said.

“We’ve been in talks with Gaz de France, Total, BP, Eni, Qatar Petroleum as well, to help us restore oil production as soon as possible,” he said.

More Crude

The Libyan revolt, which began in February, has reduced the availability of light, sweet crude oil, which can easily be refined into high-value diesel and other fuels.

“The immediate reaction should be that you’ll see more crude come onto the market” from Libya, said Jonathan Barratt, a managing director of Commodity Broking Services Pty in Sydney, who predicts crude in New York will average $100 a barrel this year. “There is that potential for 1 million barrels to come back on line soon.”

Italy’s Eni SpA has said it may take a year to get fields back to full capacity. Shares of Eni, the biggest foreign investor in Libya, Italy’s Ansaldo STS SpA and Paris-based Total SA gained as rebels advanced. Rome-based Eni gained 6.3 percent, the most in more than a year, to 13.27 euros at the 5:30 p.m. close of Milan trading.

Other oil companies said today it may take time to restore production.

“It is important that the political situation should stabilize first and the legitimate leadership be established and ministers appointed,” Ivan Gogolev, a spokesman at Gazprom International, said by phone.

Arab foreign ministers, meeting tomorrow, will consider recognizing the rebel council as a “legitimate representative” of the Libyan people, Egypt’s Middle East News Agency reported, citing Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi.

(See EXTRA for more on the Libyan conflict.)
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