In his second audio message in less than 24 hours since rebels took over his residence in the Libyan capital, Muammar Qaddafi said on Wednesday that Tripoli residents must “cleanse” the Libyan capital and renewed his vow to fight to death or victory.
Earlier, Colonel Qaddafi said he had abandoned his Bab al-Azizya compound in a “tactical withdrawal” after it was wrecked by NATO bombing attacks.
He was speaking to a Tripoli radio station and his whereabouts after leaving the compound remain a mystery. The speech gave no indication of where he had gone.
Gleeful rebels ransacked Qaddafi’s bastion on Tuesday night, seizing weapons and smashing symbols of a government whose demise will transform Libya and send a warning to other Arab autocrats facing popular uprisings.
As night fell on Tuesday after a day in which rebels overran Tripoli, meeting little resistance with few casualties, heavy fighting was reported in a southern desert city, Sabha, that rebels forecast would be Qaddafi loyalists’ last redoubt.
Forces loyal to Qaddafi were shelling the towns of Zuara and Ajelat, west of Tripoli, Al Arabiya television reported.
In Tripoli itself, Reuters correspondents said there still appeared to be some hostile fire around the city center as darkness descended and looting broke out.
Omar al-Ghirani, a spokesman for the rebels, said loyalist forces had fired seven Grad missiles at residential areas of the capital, causing people to flee their homes in panic.
He told Reuters Qaddafi forces had also fired mortar rounds in the area of the Tripoli airport.
The continued shooting suggested the six-month popular insurgency against Qaddafi, a maverick Arab nationalist who defied the West and kept an iron hand on his oil-exporting, country for four decades, had not completely triumphed yet.
A spokesman for Qaddafi said the Libyan leader was ready to resist the rebels for months, or even years.
“We will turn Libya into a volcano of lava and fire under the feet of the invaders and their treacherous agents,” Moussa Ibrahim said, speaking by telephone to satellite news channels.
Rebel leaders would not enjoy peace if they carried out plans to move to Tripoli from their headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi, he said.
But Qaddafi was already history in the eyes of the rebels and their political leaders planned high-level talks in Qatar on Wednesday with envoys of the United States, Britain, France, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on the way ahead.
Another meeting was scheduled for Thursday in Istanbul.
“It’s over! Qaddafi is finished!” yelled a fighter over a din of celebratory gunfire across the Bab al-Aziziya compound, Qaddafi’s sprawling citadel of power in the Libyan capital.
Opinion was divided about Qaddafi’s whereabouts. Colonel Ahmed Bani told Al Arabiya TV that rebels believed Qaddafi was probably holed up in one of many hideouts in Tripoli. “It will take a long time to find him,” he said.
Rebel National Council chief Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who was until February a loyal minister of Qaddafi, cautioned: “It is too early to say that the battle of Tripoli is over. That won’t happen until Qaddafi and his sons are captured.”
In Doha, NTC number two Mahmud Jibril said Libya’s transition “begins immediately” and that Qatar would host a meeting on Wednesday to organise $2.4 billion in aid for the country.
“We will build a new Libya, with all Libyans as brothers for a united, civil and democratic nation,” Jibril said.
“This is the new Libya where every Libyan works as a beloved brother, hand in hand, to serve the interests of the nation to ensure equality and justice for everyone.
“We have to be transparent in front of the whole world. Now we have to concentrate on building and healing our wounds.”
He told the youth of Libya “who brought us our dignity back,” that “this is your revolution and you will have to continue the march to finish the revolution … to participate in the creation and establishment of the Libyan state in order to move Libya forward.”