Muammar Gaddafi, king of the desert

09 September 2011 - 02:35 By Reuters

Muammar Gaddafi resurfaced on the airwaves to berate his enemies as rats and stray dogs and insist he was still in Libya to fight on, but he offered them no clues about where they could find him.

His defiant comments to a Syrian TV station came as the forces of Libya's new government tightened a siege on the tribal bastion of Bani Walid, where some suspect the ousted strongman and two of his sons might be sheltering. In exchanges of fire, Gaddafi loyalists in the town launched Grad rockets.

In what Syrian broadcaster Arrai said was a telephone call from Libya early yesterday, Gaddafi, 69, who was toppled by rebels two weeks ago after 42 years in power, rallied supporters and said surrender was out of the question.

"Our resolute Libyan people, the Libyan land is your own. Those who try to take it from you now are intruders, they are mercenaries, they are stray dogs. They are trying to seize our ancestral land from you but this is impossible.

"The youths are now ready to escalate the resistance against the rats in Tripoli and to finish off the mercenaries."

A Libyan military convoy which French and local military sources said had entered neighbouring Niger across the desert this week has stirred speculation that Gaddafi might be about to flee.

But, in remarks that indicated he was speaking after those reports were published, Gaddafi said: "This is not the first time that convoys drive in and out of Niger."

Gaddafi has not been seen in public since June and his whereabouts have been a particular mystery since rebel fighters overran his Tripoli headquarters two weeks ago, only to find that the main leadership had disappeared.

Bani Walid, one of the few towns still in the hands of Gaddafi's followers, has refused to surrender despite a stand-off lasting more than a week.

Officials from the interim ruling National Transitional Council sent reinforcements after reports that Gaddafi had issued a call for the town to fight.

The strength of resistance from an estimated 100 to 200 loyalists has made some NTC commanders think Gaddafi might be in the area.

A doctor treating NTC fighters said one had been wounded in clashes on the outskirts of the town overnight, while two among the defenders had been killed.

Abdallah Bin Qtanysh, an NTC military spokesman said: "We have encircled the city. We are ready to go in to liberate Bani Walid. All roads into the city have now been blocked."

Outside Bani Walid on Wednesday, residents making their way out through an NTC checkpoint at the nearby settlement of Wishtata painted a desperate picture.

"People are terrorised," said Salah Ali. "But many support Gaddafi because they were paid by the regime. Many have committed crimes and are afraid of arrest."

The NTC has dispatched envoys to neighbouring Niger to try to stop Gaddafi evading justice by fleeing across the largely unguarded desert frontier.