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U.S. envoy hails Tripoli leaders, pledges support

Sep 14, 2011, 6:01 a.m.
Jeffrey D. Feltman, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, meets with Mostafa Abdel Jalil (R), Chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council interim government at office of the Islamic Call Society in Tripoli September 14, 2011. REUTERS/Anis Mili

While his opponents would scoff at the idea of a successful Gaddafi comeback, they have been concerned at the difficulties they have had in taking the final bastions of his support.

BANI WALID

Interim government forces are besieging one of those last bastions, Bani Walid, 180 km (110 miles) south of Tripoli, along with Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and Sabha, deep in the southern desert.

After a week of fighting NTC forces at Bani Walid have been urging people to leave before they try to storm the town. Scores of cars packed with families left Bani Walid on Wednesday as NTC forces broadcast messages telling them to go and handed out free petrol to help them evacuate.

"There is a lot of random shooting. It is much safer for my children to leave. Gaddafi militia men do not want to negotiate," Fathalla al-Hammali, 42, said, driving away from the town with his three young children.

Gaddafi's whereabouts are unknown. NTC officials have said he could be hiding in one of the outposts like Bani Walid, helping to rally a last stand against NATO-backed forces.

NTC field commanders said people in Bani Walid had been told in radio messages on Tuesday they had two days to leave town, though it was unclear when any deadline might finally expire.

"I think only 10 percent of the people are Gaddafi supporters. They are fanatics. And the rest are waiting to be liberated. We have given them two more days to leave the city," NTC fighter Abumuslim Abdu said.

NIGER REFUGE

NTC leaders say that, along with taking pro-Gaddafi enclaves, capturing or killing the fugitive leader is a priority and only then can Libya be declared "liberated."

The U.S. State Department said one of his sons, Saadi Gaddafi, who arrived in neighbouring Niger on Sunday across the Sahara desert, was being held under house arrest there.

A Niger government source said on Tuesday that Saadi had been transferred from the northern desert town of Agadez to the capital Niamey late on Tuesday: "He is in a secure place. Like the others he is here on humanitarian grounds. He is not being sought after. He is under surveillance, not imprisoned."

However, the source added that he was not free to move: "You do not have freedom of movement when you are under surveillance," he said.

Gaddafi and his fugitive son Saif al-Islam are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), though NTC officials have said Libyans would like to try them first.

(Reporting by Maria Golovnina near Bani Walid, Libya, Alexander Dziadosz and Joseph Logan in Tripoli, Sherine El Madany in Ras Lanuf, Emma Farge in Benghazi, Mark John and Bate Felix in Niamey and Barry Malone and Sylvia Westall in Tunis; Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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