Libyan rebels on Aug. 23 stormed Moammar Qaddafi’s fortress-like compound in Tripoli, the Bab al-Aziziya, blasting through the gates and meeting no resistance, after hours of gun-battles in the surrounding streets. The compound was overrun by rebels and Tripoli citizens generally. A statue of Qaddafi was dragged out and dismantled, his head thrown to the ground. One young man raided Qaddafi’s bedroom, and was interviewed for the cameras while wearing the strongman’s infamous gold-braided colonel’s cap, gold chain and golden scepter. But there is no sign of Qaddafi or his family. State TV, apparently still in pro-Qaddafi hands, continued to broadcast audio messages from the missing strongman, but they were presumably pre-recorded. Rebel leaders say they believe Qaddafi is still in Tripoli, and they are determined to hunt him down.
“Qaddafi and the entire family are in Tripoli,” Seif al-Islam, the dictator’s son, told reporters in his controversial surprise appearance at the Rixos Hotel yesterday, after he had reportedly been captured by rebels. Seif also said the regime’s forces had deliberately not tried to prevent the rebels from entering the capital. “Allowing the rebels to enter Tripoli was a trick,” he said, without elaborating.
While NATO air-strikes continue in Tripoli, the alliance said Qaddafi is not a target. “NATO does not target individuals,” said Operation Unified Protector spokesman, Col. Roland Lavoie. “Qaddafi does not constitute a target,” he told reporters in Brussels via video-conference from the mission’s Naples headquarters.
Rebels in Libya’s east meanwhile took control of the oil port of Ras Lanuf, as Qaddafi-loyalist troops retreated toward the strongman’s home town of Sirte. There was no damage to the oil facilities in Ras Lanuf, rebel leaders said, and the only damage at Brega, taken by the rebels the previous day, was an oil storage tank that was on fire.
Both Egypt and the Arab League have now issued statements backing the rebels’ National Transitional Council. “Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby offers his full solidarity with the ongoing efforts under the leadership of the National Transitional Council,” the Arab League said in a statement that was the body’s first formal acknowledgement of the NTC. The Arab League had suspended Libya’s membership in February, and later backed a no-fly zone. But until now, the League has had no formal dealings with the rebel council. Egypt, which has similarly avoided mention of the council, issued a statement recognizing the NTC. “Egypt recognized the new system in Libya and its legitimate leadership represented in the Libyan National Transitional Council,” Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said in a statement.
Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, has also recognized the NTC as the “legitimate representative of the Libyan people.” Nigeria’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Viola Onwuliri, called on Qaddafi to give up power immediately. (Feb17.info, Global Post, CBS News, OnDeadline, VOA, WSJ, Middle East Online, Aug. 23)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, however, declared that he will continue to recognize only Qaddafi as the legitimate leader of Libya. Chávez said in a cabinet meeting that was broadcast live on radio and TV that in Libya there is “only one government, the one led by Moammar Qaddafi… We affirm our solidarity with the attacked and bombarded Libyan people.” (AFP, Aug. 23)
Libya’s stock of chemical weapons, including over 10 tons of mustard gas, are under strict US surveillance, the Pentagon said Aug. 23. “We have been and continue to monitor chemical weapons sites,” spokesperson Col. David Lapan said. Qaddafi’s regime joined the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2004 after renouncing weapons of mass destruction in December 2003, but still had to eliminate 11.25 tons of mustard gas when the uprising began in February. Mustard gas depots are located at Rabta, about 100 kilometers south of Tripoli, and at the Ruwagha site in al-Jufra, south of Sirte. (Now Lebanon, Aug. 23)
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