End of Libya conflict looms as Gaddafi bunker breached

Demonstrators set fire to a poster of Gaddafi outside the Libyan embassy in Ankara yesterday. Jubilation at the regime's collapse appears to have been shortlived.
Demonstrators set fire to a poster of Gaddafi outside the Libyan embassy in Ankara yesterday. Jubilation at the regime's collapse appears to have been shortlived.

By Ian Dunt

The battle for Tripoli seemed to be nearing its conclusion today after rebels broke into and took over Colonel Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli.

TV images showed huge explosions, seemingly mortar shells, rain down over the Bab al-Aziziya compound before rebel forces breached an outer wall and entered the house itself.

There is still no further information about the whereabouts of Gaddafi himself, although US intelligence repeated its conclusion that he had not left Libya.

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The siege took place as sporadic outbreaks of fighting broke out across the city, with snipers in pro-Gaddafi areas regularly firing at vehicles.

Meanwhile, the situation in Tripoli's only functioning hospital became increasingly dire, with minimal staff still desperately trying to tend to the wounded amid persistent gunfire and shelling.

Meanwhile rumours about a Gaddafi counter-offensive continued to fill the streets of the Libyan capital, with reports that regime forces are posing as rebels and that they are handing out automatic weapons to pro-Gaddafi civilians.

Reports suggest that pro-Gaddafi forces fired three scud missiles from Sirte, Gaddafi's birthplace, overnight. Nato jets responded with a bombing salvo against Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli.

Nato's Colonel Roland Lavoie played down the regime's ability to survive the fighting.

"It's not the number of soldiers that counts; what's important is their ability to fight," he said.

"We have severely eroded the Gaddafi regime's capabilities to a point where their command-and-control capabilities are severely affected. A lot of senior leaders have defected or been captured.

"The Gaddafi regime is going down. For us it's more a matter of when."

Events in Tripoli took a disarming turn overnight, as Gaddafi's son made a dramatic reappearance.

International reporters at a hotel in the city were startled to find Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's son and planned successor, outside in a military truck flashing victory signs.

The London-educated playboy was reported to have been arrested by rebel leaders yesterday along with his brother Mohammad, who is also reported to have escaped custody.

Emerging from a National Security Council (NSC) meeting in London this morning, Nick Clegg insisted that the re-emergence of Gaddafi's children should not be over-analysed.

"Lets be clear, this is not the sign of some great comeback," he said.

"He is not roaming freely through Tripoli. He and the remaining pro-Gaddafi forces are cornered, they're making their last stand and it's only a matter of time before they are finally defeated - of that we are very confident."

It is unclear whether Saif al-Islam escaped or was set free, but an impassioned and optimistic performance in front of the world's press convinced many journalists that the battle for Tripoli was far from over.

"We are going to win" he said.

"I am here to refute the lies. You have seen how the Libyan people rose up together, men and women, to break the backbone of the rebels, rats and gangs yesterday and today."

"We are going to hit the hottest spots in Tripoli," he added.

Ibrahim Sahad, a leading figure in the rebel forces, told Australian broadcaster ABC that Mohammed's escape was a result of an overly lenient approach from revolutionaries.

"The way they dealt with Mohammed last night was not adequate," he admitted.

"They wanted to show him the civilisation of this revolution. So they left him at home and they put some guards around the house, and the information now [is] that he escaped.

"I mean this should not be done. It should be everybody from the Gaddafi family should be brought under arrest."


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