Colonel Gaddafi’s days as leader of Libya looked to be over last night after rebels swept through the former dictator’s Tripoli stronghold.
The final days of his regime came swifter than many believed as anti-government forces made rapid progress from the west and east.
The dictator’s whereabouts are currently unknown and speculation is rife that he has fled the country. However there was confusion as to the fate of Gaddafi’s sons, with Saif al-Islam, who was previously thought to be under arrest appearing briefly on the streets of Tripoli, disproving opposition claims that he had been captured.
He appeared on TV defiantly waving his fists and shaking hands with supporters. “I am here to refute the lies,” he said on Monday, referring to reports of his arrest. He travelled to the Rixos Hotel late in the night and spoke to foreign journalists staying there.
“We broke the back of the rebels. It was a trap. We gave them a hard time, so we are winning,” he claimed.
Saif al-Islam said he did not care that he is facing being tried for war crimes at the international court in the Hague and insisted his father was safe and that the old regime was “winning”. Gaddafi’s eldest son, Mohammad, who was also detained by rebels on Sunday night is reported to have escaped and three other sons have yet to be located.
Despite pockets of resistance from a few Gaddafi loyalists there were celebrations from rebel soldiers on Tripoli’s streets. Rebels have renamed the city location previously known as “Green Square” to “Martyr’s Square” and Google has announced that it has already made the change on its popular online mapping service.
The thoughts of rebel leaders have now turned to prevention of an Iraq style release of anarchy in this intermediate leadership phase. In an attempt at securing stability, the NTC’s head Mustafa Abdel Jalil said he would resign if there were acts of revenge against Gaddafi loyalists by members of the rebel militia.
Libya’s rebel council, the NTC, has now won recognition from more than 30 countries including the United States, Britain, France and Qatar and looks set to take over the running of the country.
The National Transitional Council was set up after the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule began in February by mostly liberal-minded lawyers, doctors, academics and business executives from eastern Libya and was led by Jalil who was Gaddafi’s former justice minister.
Yesterday in a public address US President Barak Obama claimed that Libya’s future was now in the hands of its people.
Mr Obama said: “The Gaddafi regime is coming to an end and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people.
“In just six months, the 42-year reign of Muammar Gaddafi has unravelled.
“Earlier this year, we were inspired by the peaceful protests that broke out across Libya. This basic and joyful longing for human freedom echoed the voices that we had heard all across the region, from Tunis to Cairo.”
He described the National Transitional Council as “credible” and claimed that they were “representative of the Libyan people” adding “ … the United States, together with our European allies and friends across the region, recognized the NTC as the legitimate governing authority in Libya.
The fall of the Libyan dictator has been as unexpected as it has been swift. In 2003 with Libya a pariah state, Gaddafi announced he was dismantling his weapons of mass destruction and was immediately feted by western politicians eager to exploit Libyan oil.
Former Labour PM Tony Blair caused a furious row when it emerged he had negotiated a secret deal with the dictator to repatriate Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from his Scottish prison. However the Scottish government refused to comply with the deal and Megrahi was eventually released on compassionate grounds after contracting terminal cancer.
Tony Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown was also photographed shaking hands with Gaddafi as the UK government sought to negotiate deals.
Commentators in the US are now demanding that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi be sent to the USA. Appearing on BBC’s Newsnight programme, John Bolton former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, claimed that the removal of Gaddafi had rendered any agreements reached prior to Megrahi’s trial null and void.
Last night a BBC Scotland reporter claimed that the future of Al-Megrahi is now again “up for debate”. The broadcaster, who has faced criticisms over its coverage of the Libyan’s compassionate release, again focused on Megrahi’s situation. Pacific Quay featured an interview with a relative of a victim, Stephanie Bernstein, who claimed that Libya was behind Pan Am 103 and that the release of Megrahi was “wrong”.
John Ashton, who is currently authoring a book based on Megrahi’s trial and conviction, revealed that the information it would contain would crush the arguments of those who insisted that the Libyan had anything to do with the Lockerbie bombing. Pressed by Raymond Buchanan to explain why Libya had admitted responsibility for the bombing Mr Ashton explained that they in fact never had.
The Scottish Government recently announced their intention to publish the findings of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) report into the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi. The report cast considerable doubt over the safety of Mr Megrahi’s conviction.
Steven Raeburn of The Firm magazine said that the compassionate release of Megrahi had broad support amongst Scots and the calls for his extradition to the US meant that there were real fears for his safety.