TRIPOLI — Libya’s long-time strongman Muammar Gaddafi was yesterday on the run after Nato-led rebels swept into the capital bringing to an end his four–decade-long rule.
The rebels captured his three sons as they met little resistance from pro-Gaddafi forces.
There were reports suggesting the African Union (AU) may offer the ousted leader — who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in The Hague — exile in Angola or Zimbabwe.
Gaddafi is a personal friend of President Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwean leader has consistently condemned the Nato-led offensive against Gaddafi.
Gaddafi and his family have extensive investments in Zimbabwe.
At recent Heroes’ Day commemorations in Harare, President Mugabe branded Nato “terrorists” who behaved just like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the international terrorist network, Al-Qaeda.
On the other hand, the Angolan leader, José Eduardo dos Santos, told Sadc leaders during the closing ceremony of the regional summit in Luanda last week, he opposed Nato’s attacks on Gaddafi.
Other unconfirmed reports suggested Gaddafi had escaped to neighbouring Algeria.
Reports from Arab news channel Al Jazeera said two South African planes were at the Libyan capital’s main airport to airlift Gaddafi, but Pretoria shot down the claims, saying its planes were in neighbouring Tunisia to evacuate its nationals only.
“The South Africa government would like to refute and dispel the rumours and claims that it has sent planes to Libya to fly Colonel Gaddafi and his family to an undisclosed location,” South African Foreign Affairs minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters yesterday.
Russia has also announced it would not provide Gaddafi with a safe haven.
“Russia will never shelter Gaddafi. He lost our trust when he ordered attacks on peaceful demonstrations. We will not take in Muammar Gaddafi, (his son) Saif al-Islam, or anyone else with innocent blood on their hands,” Russian Foreign Affairs official Mikhail Margelov told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.
United States President Barack Obama and other Western leaders urged Gaddafi to accept defeat and said they were prepared to work with the rebels.
The European Union (EU), whose members had in recent years resolved disputes with Gaddafi in return for energy supplies, welcomed a “new era”.
“We are witnessing the last moments of the Gaddafi regime,” EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton said.
She urged the rebels not to settle scores in blood and to respect human rights and move swiftly toward a new democracy.
The fall of Gaddafi could also give new heart to embattled opposition groups across the Middle East, notably in Syria.
Many Tripoli residents received a text message from the rebel leadership saying: “God is great. We congratulate the Libyan people on the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.”