Gaddafi compound stormed but hunt for dictator goes on

THE Gaddafi regime was in its death throes last night after rebel forces stormed the dictator’s compound in Tripoli at the end of a long day of fierce and bloody fighting.

Inside the dictator’s former stronghold, they destroyed statues including an iconic golden fist crushing a US fighter jet – a symbol of Libyan defiance against the West.

Rebels broke off the head of a Gaddafi statue and kicked it along the ground, while others seized items from his home and fired guns in the air in celebration. They claimed the entire country would be under their control within 72 hours.

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But as they celebrated the hunt for Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi and his son and heir apparent. Saif al-Islam, went on.

Reports suggested that Gaddafi’s forces were heading towards the 69-year-old dictator’s birthplace, Sirt, in the east of Libya, where they were believed to be preparing for a defiant last stand. It is thought the dictator might attempt to join them.

There were scenes of jubilation in the capital when the siege of the compound, which has been at the heart of Gaddafi’s reign of terror, eventually came to an end in the early evening.

Rebel soldiers poured through the green gates of the Bab al-Aziziya complex which been heavily damaged in Nato air strikes. Misrata’s Military Council said more than 2,000 rebel troops from the city were battering at Gadafi’s final ramparts around his compound throughout the day.

The breakthough moment, after six months of civil war, was marked by rebels attacking the symbols of Gaddafi’s rule, tearing down statues and looting the houses of his family in the compound.

Entry to Bab al-Aziziya followed hours of desperate fighting. Hospitals in the city were overflowing with the wounded.

Karen Graham, a British nurse at one of the hospitals, told reporters there were scenes of carnage. “Everyone is petrified,” she said.

Snipers loyal to the Gaddafi regime held out in pockets of the city and carried on fighting in the compound even after rebels had forced their way inside.

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Libya’s former deputy ambassador to the UN Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has joined the National Transitional Council interim government, said he expected that the entire country would be in rebel hands within 72 hours. Last night it was understood about 80 per cent of Tripoli was in the control of Gaddafi’s opponents.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the regime was in its “death throes.”

But he added: “This is not yet an ordered or secure situation in Tripoli or other parts of Libya. It’s not over yet.”

He also issued a veiled warning to other regimes, including Syria, where president Bashar Assad has been trying to put down popular uprisings.

“There is a lesson here for others in the world that once a critical mass of people of a country set out to achieve change or bring democracy to their country, then attempts to repress that by violence will not permanently succeed,” Mr Hague said,

Nato, which has been backing the rebels after initial intervention by the British and French, also made it clear it thought the fighters would control the country in 72 hours.

Its spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said: “What is clear to everyone now is that the Gaddafi regime is history. The sooner he realises it the better.”

She added that Nato would play a role in reconstruction.

But the unanswered question last night was the whereabouts of Col Gaddafi and two of his sons, both of whom the rebels yesterday claimed they had captured. Said al-Islam – most famous for welcoming home Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi after his release by the Scottish Government – yesterday took journalists on a tour of the city and claimed loyalists had “broken the back” of the rebellion and that he intended to “kill the rebel dogs”.

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His appearance in the morning, surrounded by supporters, was a setback to the rebels yesterday and led to questions over the claims they were making.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell had blamed a “fog of confusion” around the fighting.

Col Gaddafi’s eldest son, Mohammed, captured during a live broadcast, had escaped and gone into hiding.

Meanwhile, before the fall of the compound, Russian chess federation chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov said Col Gaddafi had told him by telephone that he was still in Tripoli, alive and well, and had no plans to leave the city.

Mr Ilyumzhinov, who visited Libya during the Nato bombing campaign and met Gaddafi, said Mohammad had called him yesterday afternoon.

“He gave the phone to his father, who said he is in Tripoli, he is alive and healthy and is prepared to fight to the end,” Mr Ilyumzhinov claimed.

There were reports last night that Gaddafi may have escaped from the compound through a 16-mile network of tunnels, big enough for lorries to drive down. Meanwhile, one of the parts of the city still held by the regime was the Rixos Hotel, where Saif was seen and where many foreign journalists were staying – leading to fears from Nato that they might be used as a human shield.

But even as the search was on for Gaddafi and his sons, foreign governments were planning for the next phase in Libya’s history.

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In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton said the EU was preparing to unfreeze Libyan assets once the United Nations had given its approval.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, once a close Gaddafi ally, tomorrow meets the head of the rebels’ acting cabinet.