Gadhafi may be in hometown, UN releases funds to rebels

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A rebel fighter climbs atop a statue inside Gadhafi’s compound Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli, where intense fighting has occurred, on Aug. 24.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya — When the end came for Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya, it was stunningly sudden. One minute the rebels were in the mountains, the next they were sweeping through the coastal city of Zawiya to the gates of the capital.

Gadhafi’s dread fortress of Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli then came under siege by rebels, to fall in a matter of hours.

Over the next few days, the secrets of the 42-year-old regime spilled into the open.

Whispered stories about bunkers under Bab al-Aziziya proved true, with miles of tunnels navigable by electric golf carts leading to villas and hideouts across the city.

Inmates freed from the regime’s notorious prisons told of decades of inside tiny cells, cut off from the world. The squalor they endured contrasted with the luxury in which Gadhafi’s children lived, as evidenced by the expensive cars, indoor pools and gaudy decor at the homes rebels trashed and looted.

In the ensuing days, sporadic fighting continued with pockets of Gadhafi loyalists.

As they retreated, they left behind mounds of corpses, sometimes set on fire, before vanishing into the countryside.

GADHAFI LOCATION SUSPECTED NEAR SIRTE

Libyan rebels say they’re closing in on Moammar Gadhafi and issued an ultimatum Tuesday to regime loyalists in the fugitive dictator’s hometown of Sirte, his main remaining bastion: surrender this weekend or face an attack.

“We have a good idea where he is,” a top rebel leader said.

The rebels, tightening their grip on Libya after a military blitz, also demanded that Algeria return Gadhafi’s wife and three of his children who fled there Monday.

Granting asylum to his family, including daughter Aisha who gave birth in Algeria on Tuesday, was an “enemy act,” said Ahmed al-Darrad, the rebels’ interior minister.

Rebel leaders insisted they are slowly restoring order in the war-scarred capital of Tripoli after a week of fighting, including deploying police and collecting garbage.

Reporters touring Tripoli still saw chaotic scenes, including desperate motorists stealing fuel from a gas station.

Rebel fighters were converging on the heavily militarized town of Sirte, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) east of Tripoli.

The rebels gave pro-Gadhafi forces there a deadline of Saturday — the day after the end of the Muslim holiday — to complete negotiations and surrender. After that, the rebels will “act decisively and militarily,” said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council.

FUNDS DETAINED

UNITED NATIONS — Libya’s rebels got a boost Tuesday with the unfreezing of about $1.6 billion in Libyan currency held in Britain as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for urgent international support and billions more for the incoming government.

The U.N. chief said he was encouraged by events on the ground and told the Security Council “I think we can now hope for a quick conclusion to the conflict and an end to the suffering of Libya’s people.”

The National Transitional Council, which controls most of the country, says it urgently needs at least $5 billion in frozen assets to pay state salaries and maintain services in Libya, including in areas still under Moammar Gadhafi’s control, as well as for salaries for an army and a police force to restore order and confiscate arms.
Analysts estimate that as much as $110 billion is frozen in banks worldwide.
 

FAMILY FLEES TO ALGERIA, DAUGHTER HAS BABY 

ALGIERS, Algeria — Hunted throughout her homeland and forced to flee into exile across a dangerous desert border, the daughter of ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi paused somewhere in the Sahara to have a baby.

The dramatic birth of Gadhafi’s granddaughter after her mother and other relatives escaped Libyan territory into Algeria, lends a human dimension to the dictator’s downfall and the ongoing mystery of his whereabouts.

The birth in exile was disclosed by the Algerian Health Ministry on Tuesday.

Algeria’s U.N. Ambassador Mourad Benmehidi said in a letter to the Security Council obtained by The Associated Press that at 8:45 a.m. local time Monday two vehicles, a bus and a Mercedes entered Algerian territory from Libya carrying Safiya Gadhafi, her daughter Aisha, sons Hannibal and Mohammed, and their children. Benmehidi said one child “was born the same day at the border without medical assistance.”

The Health Ministry earlier said that Aisha Gadhafi gave birth to a girl on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear which day was correct.

Benmehidi said the country allowed them to enter the country for “humanitarian considerations.” Algerian news reports had said Aisha’s pregnancy was one reason for Algeria’s controversial decision to take the family in.

An Algerian newspaper reported that the exiles, who also included an unknown number of Gadhafi’s grandchildren by his eight children, had waited 12 hours to receive authorization to cross the Algerian border from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika — while Aisha was in labor.
 

POCKETS OF RESISTANCE 

TARHOUNA, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi’s green flags still fly proudly above the main street in this bastion of support for his crumbling regime. Many here still openly pledge allegiance to the longtime Libyan leader.

And don’t even ask about the rebels, who ostensibly control the small market town but mostly keep to the outskirts.

“We felt safe with Gadhafi, but not now, not with the rats,” Hassan Sultan, 35, an unemployed laborer, said of the rebels.

Tarhouna’s loyalty is a stark sign of the problems the rebels face as they try to bring stability — and eventually a new government — to a country ruled by Gadhafi for more than four decades. Residents here say many of their neighbors have hidden weapons, leftovers from government programs to arm civilians against attackers, and some say they believe there could eventually be attacks on the rebels.

Because while Gadhafi was detested by many Libyans as a dictator who enriched his family but left much of the country in poverty, he also earned support by nurturing particular tribes and regions, offering generous government benefits and jobs to those he saw as key supporters.

Sultan, for instance, received about $500 a month in unemployment assistance — more than the salary of a low-level civil servant — but received his last check in July as the rebels pushed closer to Tripoli, the capital.

But in Tarhouna, residents say their loyalty runs far deeper than the next welfare check. The town, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, was widely seen as a Gadhafi favorite, and its dominant tribe — also called Tarhouna — holds many positions in the Libyan military.

“It had nothing to do with money,” said Jafer Abdel Sadik, 21, who still sells the once-ubiquitous green flags of the Gadhafi regime in his mobile phone shop, where one wall was decorated with a large poster of the former dictator. “Under Gadhafi, we lived peacefully and were secure.”

Despite such talk, Libya’s emerging new government keenly fears a repeat of the mistakes of Iraq, where Saddam Hussein’s supporters were purged by U.S. forces and quickly turned against the new regime, destabilizing the country for years.

Rebel spokesman Mahmoud Shammam said that while Gadhafi’s key aides and fighters would be prosecuted, his civilian supporters would face no punishment.

“We are going to convince them that they are in the wrong camp, and we will welcome them to come back to the majority and understand that we’d like to build a new Libya,” he told reporters.

Printed on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 as: Rebels dispose dictator Gadhafi, Libya begins its transition.