Tripoli: A beleaguered Muammar Gaddafi urged supporters today to ”march by the millions” and quash a months-long uprising, as strong explosions rocked Tripoli amid fighting between rebels and regime supporters.
The blasts were heard shortly after 4:00 am local time in the heart of the city as NATO warplanes flew overhead, an AFP journalist said. The targets were not immediately identifiable but witnesses reported clashes in several quarters between insurgents and Gaddafi supporters.
There was also sustained gunfire in the city.
The strongman’s appeal came as rebels closed in on Tripoli and claimed his 42-year rule was on its last legs.
“We have to put an end to this masquerade. You must march by the millions to free the destroyed towns” controlled by rebels he labeled as “traitors” and “rats.”
“These scum enter mosques to cry ‘God is great.’ They are dirty. They are defiling the mosques,” Gaddafi said in an audio message carried on state television.
Earlier, a Tripoli resident said cries of “Allahu Akbar” could be heard from mosques in the city’s eastern sectors.
Gaddafi accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country is helping lead NATO-coordinated air strikes on the strongman’s military assets, of recruiting the rebels as “agents” to steal Libya’s vast oil wealth.
“To win the upcoming elections, he wants to be able to say to his people: ‘Here, I’m offering you Libyan oil’ and this is going to be achieved with the help of traitors.
“But the Libyan people will not allow France to take its oil or leave Libya to the hands of traitors,” he said.
As blasts and gunfire rocked Tripoli after the break of the dawn-to-dusk fast of Ramadan and witnesses reported fighting in the eastern neighbourhoods of Soug Jomaa, Arada and Tajura, the government insisted it was in charge of the city.
“The situation is under control,” Information Minister Moussa Ibrahim said, adding that pro-regime volunteers had repelled insurgent attacks in several neighbourhoods.
Ibrahim dismissed mounting speculation that the regime was on the brink as a “media attack,” but more gunfire was heard after he spoke on television.
In his eastern stronghold of Benghazi, Libyan rebel chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil claimed that victory was within reach, six months after the insurgency was launched.
Celebrations broke out in the early morning hours as residents feted what they claimed was the imminent collapse of Gaddafi’s rule.
“We have contacts with people from the inner circle of Gaddafi,” said the chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC). “All evidence (shows) that the end is very near, with God’s grace.”
Abdel Jalil was speaking to reporters as a flurry of rumours suggested that Gaddafi was preparing to flee Libya.
He predicted a “catastrophic” end for Gaddafi and his inner circle, along with turmoil in Tripoli.
Jubilant rebels celebrated their capture of the strategic eastern oil hub of Brega, a day after saying they had seized Zawiyah and Zliten, two other key towns.
However, rebel Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said retreating Gaddafi forces shelled Brega’s industrial zone yesterday and that his men had pulled back to its eastern edge to avoid unnecessary casualties and property damage.
In Sabratah, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Tripoli, rebels rejoiced at their camp’s latest advances and waited for a chance to take part in an offensive on the capital.