Libyan PM escapes to Tunisia


Libyan Prime Minister Al Baghdadi Ali Al Mahmoudi and the head of the country's television union, Abdallah Mansour, are on the Tunisian island of Djerba, Al Jazeera television reported on Monday, citing its correspondent there.

Reports last week that Libyan rebels and the government of Muammar Kadhafi were holding talks on the island have been denied by both sides.

One of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's sons, al-Mutassim, is in the leader's Bab al-Azizya compound in Tripoli, Al Arabiya television said on Monday.

Earlier the Dubai-based channel said that tanks supporting the leader were positioned at the compound's entrance.

The eldest son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Mohammed, told Al-Jazeera television that he had been detained by rebels and was being kept under house arrest in Tripoli.

"Gunmen surrounded my house and I am still at home and they are outside," he said by telephone from Tripoli.

Libyan rebels claimed to be in control of most of the Libyan capital on Monday after their lightning advance on Tripoli heralded the fall of Moammar Kadhafi's nearly 42-year regime, but scattered battles erupted and the mercurial leader's whereabouts remained unknown.

The international community called on Kadhafi to step down and moved ahead with post-war planning as euphoric residents celebrated in the Green Square, the symbolic heart of the Kadhafi regime, but colleagues warned he wouldn't go easily.

Nato promised to continue airstrikes until all pro-Kadhafi forces surrender or return to barracks.

The relative ease with which the rebels captured Tripoli in an hours-long blitz backed by Nato airstrikes showcased the evolution of the opposition fighters who first rose against the regime six months ago, swiftly capturing the eastern part of the vast North African nation but failing to muster enough punch to advance westward toward Tripoli even with the help of months of Nato airstrikes.

For months, the rebels were judged to be big on zeal but short on organization and discipline, but their stunning success in Tripoli showed a high level of planning, coordination and discipline.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said frozen Libyan assets would soon be released to help the country's rebels establish order, saying Kadhafi's regime was "falling apart and in full retreat."

Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Rahman, who was in Tripoli, cautioned that pockets of resistance remained and that as long as Kadhafi remains on the run the "danger is still there."

Clashes broke out early Monday at Kadhafi's longtime command center known as Bab Al Aziziya early Monday when government tanks emerged from the complex and opened fire at rebels trying to get in, according to Abdel-Rahman and a neighbor. An AP reporter at the nearby Rixos Hotel where foreign journalists stay could hear gunfire and loud explosions from the direction of the complex.

Tripoli resident Moammar Al Warfali, whose family home is next to the compound, said there appeared to be only a few tanks belonging to the remaining Kadhafi forces that have not fled or surrendered.

"When I climb the stairs and look at it from the roof, I see nothing at Bab Al Aziziya," he said. "Nato has demolished it all and nothing remains."

The Rixos also remained under the control of Kadhafi forces, with two trucks loaded with anti-aircraft machine guns and pro-regime fighters and snipers posted behind trees. Rebels and Tripoli residents set up checkpoints elsewhere in the city.

The rebels' top diplomat in London, Mahmud Nacua, said clashes were continuing in Tripoli, but opposition forces controlled 95 percent of the city. He vowed Kadhafi would be found, saying "the fighters will turn over every stone to find him" and make sure he faced justice.

A rebel field commander said reinforcements were arriving at Tripoli by sea from the north as well as the south and the southeast.

"Our fighters are coming from all directions and, God willing, today we will liberate the whole city," the commander, Suleiman Sifaw, told The Associated Press.

State TV broadcast bitter audio pleas by Kadhafi for Libyans to defend his regime as the rebels advanced on Sunday. Opposition fighters captured his son and one-time heir apparent, Seif Al Islam, who along with his father faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. Another son was under house arrest.

Rebel chief Mustafa Abdel-Jalil vowed Monday to give Kadhafi a "fair trial with all legal guarantees" when captured.

"It's over, frizz-head," chanted hundreds of jubilant men and women massed in Green Square late Sunday, using a mocking nickname of the curly-haired Kadhafi. The revelers fired shots in the air, clapped and waved the rebels' tricolor flag. Some set fire to the green flag of Kadhafi's regime and shot holes in a poster with the leader's image.

But Kadhafi's defiance in a series of angry audio messages raised the possibility of a last-ditch fight over the capital, home to 2 million people. Kadhafi, who was not shown in the messages, called on his supporters to march in the streets of the capital and "purify it" of "the rats."

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim also claimed the regime has "thousands and thousands of fighters" and vowed: "We will fight. We have whole cities on our sides. They are coming en masse to protect Tripoli to join the fight."

Kadhafi's former right-hand man, who defected last week to Italy, said the longtime leader would not go easily.

"I think it's impossible that he'll surrender," Abdel-Salam Jalloud said in an interview broadcast on Italian RAI state radio, adding that "He doesn't have the courage, like Hitler, to kill himself."

Jalloud, who was Kadhafi's closest aide for decades before falling out with the leader in the 1990s, fled Tripoli on Friday, according to rebels.

The startling rebel breakthrough, after a long deadlock in Libya's 6-month-old civil war, was the culmination of a closely coordinated plan by rebels, Nato and anti-Kadhafi residents inside Tripoli, rebel leaders said. Rebel fighters from the west swept over 20 miles (30 kilometers) in a matter of hours Sunday, taking town after town and overwhelming a major military base as residents poured out to cheer them. At the same time, Tripoli residents secretly armed by rebels rose up.

When rebels reached the gates of Tripoli, the special battalion entrusted by Kadhafi with guarding the capital promptly surrendered. The reason: Its commander, whose brother had been executed by Kadhafi years ago, was secretly loyal to the rebellion, a senior rebel official, Fathi Al Baja, told The Associated Press.

On Monday, rebels erected checkpoints on the western approaches to the city, handing out candy to passengers and inquiring about their destination. Cars leaving the city were subjected to more rigorous checks.

President Barack Obama said Libya is "slipping from the grasp of a tyrant" and urged Kadhafi to relinquish power to prevent more bloodshed.

"The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people," Obama said in a statement from Martha's Vineyard, where he's vacationing. He promised to work closely with rebels.

South Africa, which led failed African Union efforts to mediate between the rebels and Kadhafi, refused to offer support to the rebels on Monday, saying it wants to see a unity government put in place as a transitional authority. But speaking to reporters, Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said she did not envision a role for Kadhafi on such a transitional body, saying he had told AU mediators four months ago he was ready to give up leadership.

Nkoana-Mashabane also said repeatedly that South Africa has sent no planes to Libya to evacuate Kadhafi, has received no request from him for asylum and is involved in no efforts to extricate him.

Nkoana-Mashabane also said, "We don't know his (Kadhafi's) whereabouts. We assume he is still in Libya."

The uprising against Kadhafi broke out in mid-February, inspired by successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, Libya's neighbors to the east and west respectively. A brutal regime crackdown quickly transformed the protests into an armed rebellion. Rebels seized Libya's east, setting up an internationally recognized transitional government there, and two pockets in the west, the port city of Misrata and the Nafusa mountain range.

Kadhafi clung to the remaining territory, and for months neither side had been able to break the other.

In early August, however, rebels launched an offensive from the Nafusa Mountains, then fought their way down to the Mediterranean coastal plain, backed by Nato airstrikes, and captured the strategic city of Zawiya.

The rebels' leadership council, based in Benghazi, sent out mobile text messages to Tripoli residents, proclaiming, "Long live Free Libya" and urging them to protect public property. Internet service returned to the capital for the first time in six months.

Kadhafi is the Arab world's longest-ruling, most erratic, most grimly fascinating leader — presiding over this North African desert nation with vast oil reserves and just 6 million people.

For years, he was an international pariah blamed for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. After years of denial, Kadhafi's Libya acknowledged responsibility, agreed to pay up to $10 million to relatives of each victim, and the Libyan rule declared he would dismantle his weapons of mass destruction program. That eased him back into the international community.

South Africa has no plans to fly Kadhafi out: FM

South Africa has not sent planes to Libya to allow its embattled leader Moamer Kadhafi to leave the country, Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said Monday.

"The South Africa government would like to refute and dispel the rumours and claims that it has sent planes to Libya to fly Colonel Kadhafi and his family to an undisclosed location," she told reporters.

"Nobody has asked for asylum in South Africa, and as far as Johannesburg is aware, Kadhafi remains in Libya, she added.

There had been persistent rumours that South Africa had sought to convince Kadhafi to choose exile earlier in the six-month-old uprising against his four-decade rule.

But with world leaders pushing for the Libyan leader to face justice in the International Criminal Court, the South Africa foreign minister insisted her country was not about to welcome him on its soil.

"The only South African planes which have been sent in these parts of the world were to evacuate South African embassy staff," she said.

Venezuela has also been rumoured as a possible exile destination for Kadhafi, should he decide to flee.

South Africa currently hosts former Madagascar president Marc Ravalomanana, who was ousted in March 2009 coup, and also gave former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide shelter until March this year.

"The future of Kadhafi should be decided by Libyans...," Nkoana-Mashabane stressed.

South Africa continues to talks to both parties in Libya but "as peace brokers we have got no reason to create a state within the state."

Heavy fighting raged Monday near Kadhafi's Tripoli compound the day after jubilant rebel forces surged into the symbolic heart of the capital.

"With the imminent fall of the government of Colonel Kadhafi, we wish to urge the interim authorities in Tripoli to immediately institute an all-inclusive inter-Libyan political dialogue aimed at building a truly representative and people-centred dispensation" the foreign minister said in Johannesburg.

"At the moment, as far as we are concerned, if this government falls, there is no government," she said.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane added however that contacts made with the warring parties would allow for a smooth transition.

"So we are anticipating that if the Tripoli government falls there will be some semblance of authority that will be formed including elements of the (National Transitional Council) and from Tripoli," she said.

A high-level African Union committee will meet Thursday to consider the situation in Libya, Nkoana-Mashabane said, adding that she was "very proud" of how the continent had handled the crisis so far.

An AU roadmap out of the Libyan crisis remains on the table, she added.

"Consistent with the AU roadmap we believe that the way forward should include the drafting of a new constitution under the supervision of the transitional government, the holding of a referendum on the new constitution leading to the first ever democratic elections in Libya."

There was no immediate reaction from the African Union itself, which had initially backed Kadhafi, who founded the pan-African organisation in its current form and financed it generously.

Russia says Libya regime change imminent

Russia said Monday it expected the Libyan rebels to shortly take power after seizing most of the capital Tripoli and insisted that future political dialogue be held without foreign interference.

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that the Tripoli offensive appeared to spell "an imminent" change of regime in Libya that should be followed by dialogue in which nations "refrain from interfering in Libya's internal affairs."