Gaddafi appears to end rumour of his death

Footage of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was broadcast on Libyan television yesterday in his first public appearance since the Nato air strike that killed his youngest son and three grandchildren.

The broadcast put an end to speculation that the Libyan dictator may have been killed in the air strike on 30 April. The authenticity of the broadcast could not be independently verified but a projection screen showed a morning chat show and when the camera zoomed in on it yesterday's date could be seen.

He was shown meeting tribal officials in a Tripoli hotel and wore a trademark brown robe and dark sunglasses. "We tell the world: 'those are the representatives of the Libyan tribes,'" he said, pointing towards the officials. One man told him: "You will be victorious."

Journalists based at the same hotel said they had not seen Colonel Gaddafi but that some rooms had been sealed off during the day for an event. The leader was said to have only narrowly escaped with his life from the air strike on his Bab al-Aziziyah compound that killed his son Saif al-Arab. Suggestions he may have been injured in the raid were strengthened by his failure to publicly denounce the bombing or to be seen at his son's funeral.

In the absence of appearances by Colonel Gaddafi, and well used to his unpredictable and sometimes bizarre behaviour, Western officials remained careful about making statements on his whereabouts. Some, however, believed the Colonel may have been injured in the raid that killed Saif al-Arab and is receiving treatment. It still couldn't be ruled out after the television broadcast because the voluminous robe could have hidden bandaged injuries.

Libya's Prime Minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, who announced that he would be the public face in front of the international media from now on, had vehemently denied that Colonel Gaddafi's absence indicated something untowards had befallen him. "He has lost a son and he is mourning," he said. "He will be back with us soon."

Saif al-Islam, the Colonel's son who was also frequently in the media after the revolution, has also cut back his appearances amid renewed reports that he is putting together another peace proposal.

Diplomats say the cutting back of his appearances is likely to be related to his political ambitions.

"The image he had built up as a moderniser went out of the window when he made threats on [state-run] television about what would happen to the revolutionaries in Benghazi," said one source. "Perhaps he feels that a bit of silence will help his rehabilitation."

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