Pro-Libyan rebel supporters yesterday took over the country’s embassy in Harare and hoisted the flag of the National Transitional Council (NTC) seeking to oust Muammar Gaddafi, who is on the run.
However, the move flies in the face of the Zimbabwean government position on the conflict in Libya as Harare yesterday maintained it did not recognise the Western-backed NTC.
Foreign Affairs secretary Joey Bimha told NewsDay yesterday: “We take the African Union position which recognises the government of Libya under Muammar Gaddafi.”
As the drama unfolded, Libyan ambassador to Zimbabwe, Taher Elmagrahi, a known confidante of Gaddafi, defected and shifted his allegiance to the rebels.
Elmagrahi yesterday joined other Libyan nationals in replacing the Gaddafi regime flag with that of the NTC, whose forces stormed the former strongman’s Tripoli compound on Tuesday.
The ambassador joined 30 jubilant Libyans who also included embassy staff in hoisting the NTC flag at the embassy in Harare yesterday afternoon.
The group chanted anti-Gaddafi slogans.
“Gaddafi is finished,” said 29-year-old Salh. “It’s over. Down with Gaddafi!”
Others chanted: “Freedom! Freedom! Gaddafi die, die!”
Riot police were called in, but watched proceedings from a distance.
There were wild scenes of jubilation outside the embassy’s premises in downtown Harare. From the embassy, the Libyan nationals drove through the streets hooting and flashing the victory sign.
Elmagrahi said he respected the wishes of the people of Libya.
“We follow our Libyan people,” he said.
“What they want is what I follow. When they like this, I follow them. When I came here, I was here to represent the Libyan people and I follow them. When they decide to change things, we will follow them.
The embassy represents Libyan authority.”
He said despite the change of regime in Tripoli, all bilateral agreements between Zimbabwe and Libya would be respected.
Elmagrahi said he had informed the Zimbabwean authorities of the changes at the embassy.
In a letter to the Foreign Affairs ministry yesterday, the ambassador said: “From today, 24 August 2011, the bureau represents the majority of the Libyan people and the decision they took for change that is represented by the Transitional National Council. Accordingly, and basing on the changes, the bureau would like to inform you that the Libyan flag will be hoisted from today.”
Elmagrahi was instrumental in promoting Libyan investments in Zimbabwe and last year he accompanied President Robert Mugabe to the Second Afro-Arab Summit in Sirte, Libya.
And through his efforts, Gaddafi’s family is believed to have invested heavily in Zimbabwe’s transport and property sectors. During Zimbabwe’s fuel crisis, government reportedly parcelled out commercial farms to Gaddafi in exchange for fuel.
Meanwhile in Tripoli, the embattled Gaddafi yesterday vowed to die fighting against “aggression”, after Libyan rebels seized his Tripoli compound.