Qaddafi flees, but vows "victory or martyrdom"


TRIPOLI, Libya - A defiant Muammar Qaddafi vowed Wednesday to fight on "until victory or martyrdom" and called on residents of the Libyan capital and loyal tribesmen across his North African nation to free Tripoli from the "devils and traitors" who have overrun it.

The broadcast came a day after hundreds of Libyan rebels stormed Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya fortress-like compound in the capital but found no sign of the longtime leader. On Monday, the rebels entered Tripoli, pouring into the Mediterranean metropolis of some 2 million people in their thousands in a stunning breakthrough. They claim to control 80 percent of Tripoli.

Tuesday's ransacking of Bab al-Aziziya, long the nexus of Qaddafi's power, marked the effective collapse of his 42-year-old regime. But with Qaddafi and his powerful sons still unaccounted for — and gun battles flaring across the nervous city — the fighters cannot declare victory.

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Government forces still have control of the Rixos hotel, about a mile from Bab al-Aziziya, where dozens of foreign journalists and one former U.S. congressman are being prevented from leaving by armed government enforcers.

Rep. Walter Fauntroy, who served as an at-large delegate for Washington D.C. until the 1990s, has been in contact with his wife and says he's safe, according to the Washington Post.

The situation at the Rixos reportedly grew increasingly tense overnight, with a loyalist guard pointing his rifle at one journalist before standing down. There are also reports that pro-Qaddafi forces may be firing from the roof of the hotel.

A BBC journalist reported from outside Bab al-Aziziya, meanwhile, that some loyalist forces still seemed to be holed up either inside the compound or near its perimeter, as sporadic exchanges of fire continued.

In an address given from an unknown location and broadcast Wednesday on Al-Ouroba TV, Qaddafi asked: "Why are you letting them wreak havoc?" The Syria-based satellite station is owned by Iraqi dissident Mishaan Jibouri and has been supporting Qaddafi as well as Syria's embattled leader Bashar Assad.

Sounding subdued and without his usually fiery rhetoric, Qaddafi said he would fight "the aggression with all strength until either victory or death."

The channel earlier quoted the Libyan leader as saying he had left the Bab al-Aziziya compound in a "tactical move" after 64 NATO air strikes reduced it to rubble.

Qaddafi's chief government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, also managed to get word out in a phone interview with the same station, promising "we will be back to take Tripoli back."

The 69-year-old Libya leader has routinely addressed his supporters from state Libyan television, but the rebels have taken the channel off the air on Tuesday.

In Brussels, a NATO official said warplanes continued to strike overnight at pro-Qaddafi forces near Tripoli.

"We did see remnants of the pro-Qaddafi forces moving heavy equipment and we took action," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to standing rules. "It shows that we are ever present over Libya, and we will maintain this presence as long as necessary."

The rebel leadership, based in the eastern city of Benghazi, tried to assert civilian control despite continued uncertainty.

Mahmoud Jibril, deputy chairman of the National Transitional Council, was traveling to France and was to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday evening, according to Sarkozy's office. A statement said talks will focus on "the situation in Libya and the international community's actions to support the political transition to a free and democratic Libya."