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Renewed violence in Tripoli

    Alan Cowell
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Quashing rumours: Saif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and supposed to have been captured by rebels, greets supporters in Tripoli on Tuesday. — Photo: Reuters
Quashing rumours: Saif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and supposed to have been captured by rebels, greets supporters in Tripoli on Tuesday. — Photo: Reuters

The crackle of gunfire and the rumble of explosions spread across Tripoli in renewed fighting on Tuesday, and Muammar Qadhafi remained at large hours after his son Saif al-Islam made a surprise appearance at a hotel with foreign journalists, taunting the rebels and urging loyalist forces to resist.

Video showed billows of smoke rising above several districts and news reports said some of the heaviest clashes took place around Mr. Qadhafi's compound. The waves of gunfire drowned out the rebels' earlier euphoria after their lightning strike into Tripoli on Sunday.

It was not clear whether the recent rebel gains were the beginnings of a decisive victory or, rather, the start of potentially prolonged street-fighting for control of the capital. NATO officials in Brussels and London said the alliance's warplanes were flying reconnaissance and other missions over Libya but declined to say whether the planes had bombed the fortified Qadhafi compound in Tripoli.

“Our mission is not over yet,” said Colonel Roland Lavoie, a NATO spokesman, at a news conference in Naples, Italy, urging pro-Qadhafi forces to return to their barracks. “Until this is the case we will carry on with our mission.” Asked if the alliance knew where Mr. Gadhafi was, he said: “We don't know. I don't have a clue.”

He acknowledged that the urban environment in Tripoli, a city of some two million, was “far more complex” for air strikes.While rebel leaders professed on Monday to be making progress in securing Tripoli and planning for a post-Qadhafi government, and international leaders hailed the beginnings of a new era in Libya, the immediate aftermath of the invasion was a vacuum of power, with no cohesive rebel government in place and remnants of the Qadhafi government still in evidence.

On the diplomatic front, Oman and Bahrain said on Tuesday that they formally recognised the rebel authorities, following Egypt, which took the same step on Monday, calling the Transitional National Council the “new regime”.

Mohammed Amr, Egypt's Foreign Minister, said the council would take over the Libyan Embassy in Cairo, and would assume Libya's seat on the Arab League, which is based in Cairo.

It was not clear if the renewed fighting was linked to the surprise reappearance of Saif al-Islam, whose capture the rebels had trumpeted since Sunday but who walked as a free man to the Rixos Hotel early on Tuesday.

He boasted to foreign journalists there that his father's government was still “in control” and had lured the rebels into a trap, the BBC and news services reported. The episode raised significant questions about the credibility of rebel leaders who had claimed to be holding him prisoner.

It was not clear whether he had been in rebel custody and escaped, or was never held at all. Another Qadhafi son, Muhammed, escaped from house arrest on Monday. — New York Times News Service


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