One of a series of high-ranking Libyan officials tipped as possible defectors denied reports that he planned to desert Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime yesterday, but mystery surrounded the fate of others thought to be questioning their loyalties.
In a bid to deflect claims by the US and British governments that the regime was on the brink of implosion after the defection of Foreign minister Moussa Koussa on Wednesday, intelligence chief Abuzed Durda publicly insisted he remained loyal to Gaddafi.
"I am in Libya and will remain here steadfast in the same camp of the revolution despite everything," Mr Durda said in a telephone interview broadcast by Libyan state television. "I never thought to cross the borders or violate commitment to the people, the revolution and the leader."
To add to the confusion, Ali Abdussalam Treki, the ambassador to the United Nations and a former Foreign minister, who announced his departure on Thursday on several websites, played down his reported defection.
In an interview with The New York Times in Cairo, Mr Treki acknowledged that his departure for the Egyptian capital was not on authorised government business but indicated he had not actually turned against the Gaddafi regime. Instead he said: "There are people who do not want to defect to one side or the other, they just don't want to be part of this situation continuing. A lot of Libyans think like me. They think our country should be saved, we have to stop this killing and fighting. All fighting should be stopped." He said no one in Tripoli had asked him to arrange a ceasefire and nor was he mediating.
Meanwhile in Tripoli, heavy gunfire was heard at several points during the night, some of it apparently from the direction of Gaddafi's Bab Al Azizia compound in the capital. Some residents told Reuters that they had seen snipers on rooftops and pools of blood on the streets, but the reports could not be verified because of a heavy clampdown on journalists' movements on the main day of worship.
Colonel Gaddafi and other regime elements have repeatedly made it clear they are arming loyalist civilians and that thousands of "volunteers" have joined armed units, but it was unclear last night to what extent loyalist forces had encountered any protests. In Tajoura and Souk El Jouma there were unconfirmed report s that small groups of militiamen were finding it unsafe to travel in sidestreets for fear of attack by anti-Gaddafi residents, but that they were still in control of the main roads.
An exceptionally heavy presence of police and militias stilled protests by worshippers leaving mosques after Friday prayers in the two neighbourhoods known as centres of anti-Gaddafi dissent over the past two weeks, and there was no evidence that would-be protesters leaving mosques had made any more headway yesterday.
An exiled Libyan, who said he was in contact with residents, told Reuters: "The Libyan army has put a lot of snipers on the roofs of schools near mosques. People are afraid, they are staying at home." Two other residents sympathetic to opposition groups said yesterday they were so far unaware of any demonstrations or shooting during the day or previous night.