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Gaddafi urges supporters to fight on

Tripoli, Sept. 1 (Reuters): Muammar Gaddafi, driven into hiding by his foes, today urged his supporters to fight on, even as Libya’s new interim rulers met world leaders to discuss reshaping a nation torn by 42 years of one-man rule and six months of war.       

“Let it be a long battle. We will fight from place to place, from town to town, from valley to valley, from mountain to mountain,” Gaddafi said in his message.       

“If Libya goes up in flames, who will be able to govern it? Let it burn. They don’t want to rule Libya. They cannot rule it as long as we are armed. We are still armed. We will fight in every valley, in every street, in every oasis, and every town.”       

He added: “How can we give ourselves up again? Are we women surrendering ourselves to our husbands or what?” He gave no indication of where he was in his audio remarks.        

The fugitive leader was speaking on the anniversary of the military coup that toppled King Idris and brought him to power in 1969 when he was a 27-year-old army captain.

There have been conflicting reports about Gaddafi’s location since his Tripoli compound was overrun on August 23. A senior military commander of the interim National Transitional Council (NTC) said Gaddafi was in a desert town outside Tripoli, along with his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, planning a fightback.       

All three fugitives are wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.       

Abdel Majid Mlegta, coordinator of the Tripoli military operations room, told Reuters “someone we trust” had said Gaddafi had fled to Bani Walid, 150km southeast of the capital, three days after Tripoli fell.       

An Algerian newspaper said Gaddafi was in the border town of Ghadamis and had tried to call Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to appeal for refuge. Bouteflika would not take the call, even though Algeria gave sanctuary to Gaddafi’s wife and three of his children when they crossed the border on Monday.       

The NTC, trying to mop up pro-Gaddafi forces, extended by a week a Saturday deadline for the surrender of the coastal city of Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, and other hold-out towns.

“That means there’s progress in the negotiations,” said Mohammed Zawawi, an NTC spokesman in the eastern city of Benghazi. “We’re not in a rush to get in to Sirte. It has no economic importance and we’re not going to lose casualties for it. We can cut supplies and wait, even more than a week.”        

The extension follows a peace feeler from one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saadi, yesterday. “We were talking about negotiations based on ending bloodshed,” Saadi told al-Arabiya TV, adding that his father had authorised him to parley with the NTC.

The head of Tripoli’s military council, Abdul Hakim Belhadj, told Reuters the same day he had spoken to Saadi by telephone and promised him decent treatment if he surrenders. The war may not be over until Gaddafi is killed or captured, but Libyans are keen to move on.

Libya’s new leaders gathered with their foreign allies in Paris to coordinate political and economic reconstruction. Some participants will also be jostling for a share in post-war contracts in the wealthy North African oil and gas producer.       

Russia recognised the NTC before the conference opened. It had abstained from a UN Security Council vote in March that allowed western military intervention in Libya but then repeatedly accused Nato forces of overstepping their mandate to protect civilians and of siding with rebels in the civil war. Some in Libya suggest that Tripoli may slight nations like Russia and China in favour of stalwarts of the intervention such as Britain, France, the US and Qatar.       

China’s official People’s Daily newspaper told the West to let the UN lead reconstruction in Libya and said Beijing would defend its economic stake there.

British foreign secretary William Hague said he sought a closer trade relationship between Libya and Europe and said Britain would not miss out on its share of contracts. “We won’t be left behind,” he told reporters.

Given sensitivities among Muslims after western military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, British Prime Minister David Cameron was at pains to stress that Libyans were in charge of their own fate: “This is not being dropped out of a Nato aeroplane, this is being delivered by the Libyan people,” he said. “It is their revolution, it is their change.”

Eager to meet immediate civilian needs, the NTC is expected to push for rapid access to billions of dollars in foreign-held Libyan assets frozen under UN sanctions on Gaddafi. The UN has already authorised the release of more than $5 billion in previously frozen assets held in the US, Britain and France.       

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