TRIPOLI, Libya — Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi remained at large Monday morning, and loyalist forces still held pockets of the city, stubbornly resisting the rebels’ efforts to establish full control after their astonishingly speedy advance into the capital appeared to signal the end of the Libyan leader’s four-decade grip on power.
[B]“We do not know if he is inside or outside Libya,” Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the chairman of the rebel government, the National Transitional Council, said of Colonel Qaddafi at a news conference in Benghazi, up until now the de facto rebel capital. He acknowledged, too, that the area of Tripoli around Colonel Qaddafi’s compound, Bab al-Aziziya, was not under rebel control. [/B]
Explosions and the sound of mortars could still be heard Monday morning, and a rebel fighter told Al Jazeera television that pro-Qaddafi forces still controlled 15 to 20 percent of the capital. An elite rebel brigade that was supposed to establish a police presence throughout the city instead found itself involved in a firefight with pro-Qaddafi forces.
News reports quoting rebel officials said tanks had emerged from Colonel Qaddafi’s compound and opened fire. “There haven’t been many silent minutes,” Karen Graham, a British nurse in Tripoli told the BBC.
But as rebel leaders said they had arrested two sons of Colonel Qaddafi, [B]the European Union said on Monday that it had begun planning for a post-Qaddafi era. Financial markets rose smartly in Europe and the United States, and oil prices declined on the expectation that Libyan production would quickly return to pre-war levels. [/B]
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, which along with the United States and France played a central role in the air campaign over Libya, said some of the fighting in Tripoli was “extremely fierce.” He said Colonel Qaddafi “must stop fighting without conditions” and relinquish all claims to power.
Mahmud Nacua, a Libyan rebel representative in London, told reporters that the insurgents would “look under every stone” for Colonel Qaddafi so that he could be brought to trial, presumably a reference to charges by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which issued arrest warrants for Colonel Qaddafi, one of his sons, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, and his intelligence chief in June, accusing them of crimes against humanity.
On the diplomatic front, France said Monday that it wanted to call a top-level meeting in Paris next week of the so-called Contact Group of nations supporting the Libyan rebels: the United States, Britain, several Arab states, the United Nations and the Arab League. But the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said “It’s up to the Libyans and the Libyans alone to choose their future and to build a new Libya, which will be a democratic Libya.”
His words seemed to reflect an emerging European desire to avoid being drawn into turmoil in a post-Qaddafi era. Earlier, Mr. Cameron said: “Our task now is to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people, which is for an effective transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya. This will be and must be and should be Libyan-led and a Libyan-owned process with broad international support coordinated by the United Nations.”
On Sunday, NATO troops continued close air support of the rebels all day, with multiple strikes by alliance aircraft helping to clear the road from Zawiyah to Tripoli. Rebel leaders in the west credited NATO with thwarting an attempt by Qaddafi loyalists to reclaim Zawiyah on Sunday with a flank assault on the city.
In a report on Monday from Brussels, The Associated Press quoted a NATO official as saying the alliance would continue air patrols over Libya until all pro-Qaddafi forces surrender or return to barracks. But Mr. Nacua, the rebel envoy in London, seemed to suggest that the rebels felt NATO’s role was now over.
“NATO has done a very good job. They neutralized Qaddafi’s war machine,” Mr. Nacua said. “But I think their role will be over, and the Libyan people will independently rebuild their country.”
A reporter asked if that meant the alliance would be requested to suspend its air campaign. “I think so, yes,” Mr. Nacua said. “There’s no danger from Qaddafi and his heavy machines against our fighters.”
Analysts said the crucial role played by NATO in aiding the rebel advance in the relatively unpopulated areas outside the capital could prove far less effective in an urban setting, where concerns about civilian casualties could hamper the alliance’s ability to focus on government troops.
President Obama said Sunday night that Colonel Qaddafi and his inner circle had “to recognize that their rule has come to an end.” He called on Colonel Qaddafi “to relinquish power once and for all.” He also called on the National Transitional Council to avoid civilian casualties and protect state institutions as it took control of the country.
“Tonight, the momentum against the Qaddafi regime has reached a tipping point,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Qaddafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.”
The shocking collapse of the Qaddafi forces appeared to signal the end for one of the world’s most flamboyant and mercurial political figures, the leader of an idiosyncratic government that was frequently as bizarre as it was brutal.
[B]Long a thorn in the side of the West after he took power in a bloodless coup in 1969, Colonel Qaddafi had managed an awkward reconciliation in recent years, abandoning his fledgling nuclear program and agreeing to pay billions of dollars to the victims of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, which was attributed to Libyan agents.
While denying that he actually headed the government, Colonel Qaddafi created a cult of personality that centered on his Green Book, a volume often as trivial as it was impenetrable. His decades of iron-fisted rule have produced a country, analysts say, that is devoid of credible institutions and any semblance of a civil society — a potential source of trouble in the months and years ahead. [/B]
After six months of inconclusive fighting, the assault on the capital unfolded at a breakneck pace, with insurgents capturing a base of the vaunted Khamis Brigade, where they had expected to meet resistance, then speeding toward Tripoli and through several neighborhoods of the capital effectively unopposed.
A separate group of rebels waged a fierce battle near the Rixos Hotel, a bastion of Qaddafi support near the city center. A team of rebels there captured Colonel Qaddafi’s son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam. Rebels also claimed to have accepted the surrender of a second Qaddafi son, Mohammed.
Mr. Abdel-Jalil, the rebel council chairman, said both sons were “in a safe place” under rebel control. He said gunfire heard when Mohammed el-Qaddafi was being interviewed on television after his surrender had come from a firefight between his bodyguards and the rebels taking him into custody. One rebel was killed and a bodyguard was injured.
Seif al-Islam has been a central character in the drama of the revolt. Before the uprising began, he was known as Libya’s leading advocate of reform in both economic and political life. He cultivated an Anglophile persona, and often appeared to be waging a tug of war against his father’s older and more conservative allies. He was increasingly seen as the most powerful figure behind the scenes of the government as well as his father’s likely successor.
When the revolt broke out it was Seif al-Islam who delivered the government’s first public response, vowing to wipe out what he called “the rats” and warning of a civil war.
In his last public interview, he appeared a changed man. Sitting in a spare hotel conference room, he wore a newly grown beard and fingered prayer beads. After months of denouncing the rebels as dangerous Islamic radicals, he said that he was brokering a new alliance with the Islamist faction among the rebels to drive out the liberals.
Colonel Qaddafi issued a series of defiant audio statements during the night, calling on people to “save Tripoli” from a rebel offensive. He said Libyans were becoming “slaves of the imperialists” and that “all the tribes are now marching on Tripoli.”
Mahmoud Hamza, a senior official of the Qaddafi Foreign Ministry, acknowledged in a phone call at 1 a.m. local time on Monday that “it is getting near the end now.” But he said that the Qaddafi forces had not given up.
“Tripoli now is very dangerous. There is a lot of fighting, but there is not yet an assault on Bab al-Aziziya,” he said. “For me this is the most fearful thing. I hope it does not come to that.”