‘The ICC can go to hell’, says Gaddafi Jr as fresh fighting erupts in Tripoli

2011-08-23 12:53

Tripoli, Libya – Fresh fighting erupted in Tripoli today, hours after Muammar Gaddafi’s son turned up free to thwart Libyan rebel claims he had been captured, a move that seems to have energised forces still loyal to the embattled regime.

Rebels and pro-regime troops fought fierce street battles in several parts of the city, a day after opposition fighters swept into the capital with relative ease, claiming to have most of it under their control.

Thick clouds of gray and white smoke filled the Tripoli sky as heavy gunfire and explosions shook several districts of the city of 2 million people. Some of the heaviest fighting was around Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya main compound and military barracks.

The compound, which has been heavily damaged by Nato airstrikes, has emerged as one of the centres of government resistance since tanks rolled out yesterday and began firing at rebels trying to get in.

Seif al-Islam’s sudden – even surreal – arrival at a Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists are staying threw the situation in the capital into confusion.

The appearance of Gaddafi’s son and former heir apparent underlined the potential for the longtime Libyan leader, whose whereabouts remain unknown, to strike back even as his grip on power seemed to be slipping fast.

Rebels say they control most of Tripoli, but they faced pockets of fierce resistance from regime loyalists firing mortars and anti-aircraft guns.

Rebel spokesperson Mohammed Abdel-Rahman, who was in Tripoli, said the “danger is still there” as long as the longtime Libyan leader remains on the run.

He warned that pro-Gaddafi brigades are positioned on Tripoli’s outskirts and could “be in the middle of the city in half an hour”.

The rebel leadership seemed stunned that Seif al-Islam was free. A spokesperson, Sadeq al-Kabir, had no explanation and could only say: “This could be all lies.”

He could not confirm whether Seif al-Islam escaped rebel custody, but he did say that another captured Gaddafi son, Mohammed, had escaped the home arrest that rebels had placed him in a day earlier. Yesterday, the rebels had said Seif al-Islam was captured, but did not give details on where he was held.

The Netherlands-based International Criminal Court – which indicted Seif al-Islam and his father – had announced his capture, but spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah said today the court never received official confirmation from Libya’s rebel authorities that he had been arrested.

Seif al-Islam, with a full beard and wearing an olive-green T-shirt and camouflage trousers, turned up early this morning at the Rixos hotel, where about 30 foreign journalists are staying in Tripoli under the close watch of regime minders.

Riding in a white limousine amid a convoy of armoured SUVs, he took reporters on a drive through parts of the city still under the regime’s control, saying: “We are going to hit the hottest spots in Tripoli.” Associated Press reporters were among the journalists who saw him and went on the tour.

The tour covered mainly the area that was known to still be under the regime’s control – the district around the Rixos hotel and nearby Bab al-Aziziya, Gaddafi’s residential compound and military barracks.

The tour went through streets full of armed Gaddafi backers, controlled by roadblocks, and into the Gaddafi stronghold neighbourhood Bu Slim.

At Bab al-Aziziya, at least a hundred men were waiting in lines for guns being distributed to volunteers to defend the regime. Seif al-Islam shook hands with supporters, beaming and flashing the “V for victory” sign.

“We are here. This is our country. This is our people, and we live here, and we die here,” he told AP Television News. “And we are going to win, because the people are with us. That’s why were are going to win. Look at them – look at them, in the streets, everywhere!”

When asked about the ICC’s claim that he was arrested by rebels, he told reporters: “The ICC can go to hell,” and added: “We are going to break the backbone of the rebels.”

In Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital hundreds of miles east of Tripoli, the head of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) said the rebels have no idea where the 69-year-old Gaddafi is or whether he is even in Tripoli.

“The real moment of victory is when Gaddafi is captured,” Mustafa Abdel-Jalil said. An Obama administration official said the US had no indication that Gaddafi had left Libya.

US President Barack Obama said the situation in Libya reached a tipping point in recent days after a five-month Nato-led bombing campaign. However, he acknowledged that the situation remained fluid and that elements of the regime remained a threat.

The Obama administration official said the US believes 90% of the capital is under rebel control, while regime loyalists still control Sirte and the southern city of Sebha.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorised to speak publicly.

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