Rebels extend Khadafy deadline
Libyan leader vows to fight
TRIPOLI, Libya - The transitional government of Libya’s triumphant rebels decided yesterday to extend the deadline given to Moammar Khadafy and his remaining fighters to surrender by up to a week, but the fugitive leader rejected the ultimatum and raged at his enemies in a new broadcast that called for the country to be engulfed in flames.
Khadafy, whose whereabouts remained a mystery, delivered the screed in an audio message that was first broadcast by Al Rai, a television channel in Syria that has often carried pro-Khadafy news and propaganda. It was not clear how the channel received Khadafy’s message - apparently his first after more than a week on the run - or whether it had been prerecorded.
“We will fight the collaborators,’’ he said. “The Libyan people are not a herd of sheep. They are heavily armed.’’
Daring the rebels to find him, he improbably predicted that Libyans would rise up and reject the new government as well as the NATO powers that have been bombing his forces for months under a UN mandate to protect civilians. “Their supplies will run out, but ours will never run out,’’ he said. “Let there be a long fight, and let Libya be engulfed in flames.’’
The rebel decision to extend the ultimatum, coming on the anniversary of Khadafy’s rise to power in Libya 42 years ago, means that the original deadline set by the rebels, Saturday, has been pushed back to Sept. 10. The step came as the new government seemed to gain momentum, as more countries - notably Russia and Romania - formally recognized it as the legitimate authority in Libya, and as an international conference on post-Khadafy Libyan reconstruction convened in Paris.
Rebel leaders who have massed forces outside Surt, the Mediterranean coastal enclave that is Khadafy’s hometown, told the BBC that they had been negotiating with tribal elders there and had decided to give the talks another week. Abdel Hafidh Ghoga, deputy chairman of the Transitional National Council, the provisional rebel government, was quoted as saying the deadline for surrender had been extended because “there are good indications that things are moving in the right direction.’’
Khadafy has been a fugitive since the rebels invaded Tripoli late last month in what quickly became a decisive turn in the six-month-old conflict. He and his subordinates have consistently rejected calls to surrender, but his second wife, along with three of his children and their families, fled to neighboring Algeria this week.
Rebel officials said they believed Khadafy was hiding in the desert town of Bani Walid, 150 miles southeast of Tripoli. There has also been speculation that he had sought refuge in Surt, or in a third center of armed loyalist resistance, the town of Sabha in southern Libya.
The rebels have demanded that Algeria repatriate the Khadafy relatives who sought sanctuary there, but there has been no indication that Algeria would do so. Al Watan, an Algerian newspaper, reported that Khadafy had also sought asylum in Algeria, but that the president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, refused to take his telephone calls.