'Desperate' Gaddafi fires a Scud missile


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The UN's special envoy to Libya arrived in Tunis yesterday to step up pressure for what Tunisian officials called a "peaceful transition" from Muammar Gaddafi's 41-year rule.

The moves came in the aftermath of the defection of Libya's Interior Minister, reports from rebel forces that they had over-run two strategic towns within 40 miles of Tripoli, and the first, though ineffective, firing of a Scud missile by pro-Gaddafi forces.

As the UN envoy, Abdel-Elah al-Khatib, who is Jordan's former foreign minister, began talks in Tunis, Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary, declared in Washington: "Gaddafi's forces are weakened and this latest defection is another example of how weak they've gotten. I think Gaddafi's days are numbered."

There was some confusion over the nature of the talks held by Mr Khatib in Tunis, with both the UN and rebel leaders in Benghazi denying reports that he was conducting negotiations with each side. The envoy himself declined to discuss who else he was meeting after talks with the Tunisian Foreign Minister Mouldi Kefi al-Khatib. But an unnamed Tunisian security official told the Associated Press that discussions were on a "peaceful transition" in Libya.

US defence officials, meanwhile, confirmed that the Scud was fired on Sunday from near Sirte, 310 miles east of Tripoli, and landed in the desert between the rebel-held towns of Brega and Ajdabiya. In Benghazi rebel officials said the Scud was probably intended to hit rebel forces. "Gaddafi troops are using his last gun. He's crazy," said Mohammad Zawawi, media director for rebel forces. "We're scared he'll use chemicals. That's why we're trying to end this war, and with the least number of casualties."

Shashank Joshi, from the Royal United Services Institute, told Reuters that firing the missile, which poses little military threat because it is so inaccurate, is evidence of the Gaddafi administration's desperation.