Muammar Gaddafi was a hunted man on Monday as loyal remnants of his forces made a last-ditch stand in the capital and world leaders embraced the fractious Libyan rebels as new masters of the oil-rich North African state.
“The Gaddafi era is over,” rebel chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil said in Benghazi, eastern Libya. He acknowledged that the flamboyant 69-year-old’s whereabouts remained a mystery. Three of his sons, however, were captured.
Nearly 48 hours after a pincer thrust on Tripoli by the irregular rebel armies, launched in tandem with an uprising in the city, Gaddafi’s tanks and sharpshooters appeared to hold only small areas, including his Bab al-Aziziya headquarters.
Civilians, who mobbed the streets late on Sunday to cheer the end of dictatorship, stayed indoors as gunfire crackled. Gaddafi’s prime minister showed up in Tunisia.
World leaders hailed the rebels’ dramatic rout on Sunday of loyalist forces in Tripoli, urging Gaddafi, one of the world’s longest ruling leaders, to admit defeat.
Jalil, who heads the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), said he hoped Gaddafi, who faces an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, would be “captured alive so that he will be given a fair trial.”
Jalil told Al-Arabiya news channel that his ad hoc government was preparing to move to Tripoli but that the pockets of resistance were delaying this.
The rebel leader said it was difficult to tell whether Gaddafi had fled the country. In Washington, the Pentagon said it believed Gaddafi was still in Libya.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who took an early gamble on the Libyan rebels, called on Gaddafi loyalists “to turn their back on the criminal and cynical blindness of their leader by immediately ceasing fire, giving up their arms and turning themselves in to the legitimate Libyan authorities”.
US President Barack Obama said: “Muammar Gaddafi and his regime need to recognise that their rule has come to an end.”
Egypt, whose Arab Spring revolt inspired its neighbours, abandoned its caution and recognised the rebel government.