LIBYAN rebels ransacked Colonel Gaddafi’s compound last night and declared the end of the dictator’s rule as celebratory gunfire rang through Tripoli.
Fighters raised the rebel flag in the Bab al-Aziziya bastion as all but a few districts fell under their control. They celebrated the apparent fleeing of the dictator from his base after 42-year rule by seizing weapons and treasure and shouting: “It’s over”.
The triumphant army began to destroy the emblems of Gaddafi’s tyranny by beheading a bronze statue of him, crushing his sculpture of a hand clasping an American warplane and setting fire to one of his Bedouin tents.
But as the extraordinary scenes continued into the early hours, Colonel Gaddafi resurfaced, taking to the airwaves to say his withdrawal from the Tripoli compound was a “tactical move” following Nato airstrikes.
He repeated his pledge to fight to the death in a tirade broadcast by local radio in Tripoli.
The Gaddafi family is believed to have the use of a series of safe houses in the capital and beyond.
Mahmoud Jibril, head of the Libyan rebel government, promised to move the country towards democracy, after a conflict that has claimed at least 400 lives in recent days, but pleaded with his people not to issue summary justice or slip into the inter-ethnic conflict that left Iraq a bloody quagmire.
“The whole world is looking at Libya. We must not sully the final page of the revolution,” said Jibril.
William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, said: “This is not yet an ordered or secure situation in Tripoli or other parts of Libya. It’s not over yet but we are in the death throes here of a despicable regime.”
The new Libyan regime said oil production – the backbone of the country’s economy – will re-start “very soon” and asked Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to supply it with fuel and help rebuild its war-torn infrastructure.
Aref Ali Nayed , the rebels’ ambassador to the UAE, said Libya’s Zawiya refinery had not been badly damaged in fighting and that it would be the first to resume production. The news was enough to slightly cool the surging price of Brent crude oil, which rose 1.4 per cent to $109.77 a barrel during trading yesterday.
The rebel National Transitional Council has asked for $2.5bn (£1.52bn) in international aid by the end of the month and its members will today meet representatives from the US, France, Italy, Britain, Turkey and Qatar in Doha, Jibril said.
“There are some minor damages and they are being fixed… judicially and legally we are able to go forward,” Aref Ali Nayed added.