Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has pledged once again to remain in Tripoli until the end, as opposition fighters battled their way towards the capital to reinforce rebels who rose up in the city overnight.
Fighting continued into Sunday morning in a few central and eastern neighbourhoods, and rebel flags were raised over some buildings, witnesses said. Much of the population took cover inside their homes.
The clashes came a day after forces loyal to Gaddafi used heavy machine guns and mortars to confront lightly armed opposition forces and protesters who took to the streets.
As opposition fighters continued what they called their “final push” for the capital, Gaddafi addressed the nation in an audio message aired on state television on Sunday.
In it, he refused to surrender and pledged to emerge “victorious” from the fighting for Tripoli. He also called on the people of Libya to come from all regions to liberate Tripoli, saying he was in the city with them and that together they would fight to the end.
“We will not, we will not abandon Tripoli to the occupants and their agents. I am with you in this battle,” he said.
“We do not surrender and, by God’s grace, we will emerge victorious.”
‘Take over Tajoura’
He called on his supporters to “march on (the district of) Tajoura in tens of thousands to purge the officials of the colonisers,” in a reference to the NATO-backed rebels.
“Today we must take over Tajoura. I fear, if you let them, they will destroy Tripoli,” he warned.
Meanwhile, outside of Tripoli, rebel fighters closed in. They advanced tens of kilometres from Zawiyah, to the west, seizing the town of al-Mayah and putting themselves within several kilometres of the capital’s suburbs. Other rebel formations remained further way, stationed to the south, in Gharyan, and to the east, in Zlitan.
Despite the greatest challenge yet to his power, Gaddafi has remained pugnacious. In a telephoned audio address a day earlier, he exhorted his followers and congratulated them for defeating the “rats”.
His most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, also gave a televised speech, saying the regime did not know how to raise the “white flag” of surrender.