Rebel government tries to bring order to the shattered streets of Benghazi

Libya has taken its first steps towards a new future following four decades of dictatorship with the formation of a new administration in the half of the country which is out of Colonel Gaddafi's control.

The National Council set up in Benghazi, the "capital of Free Libya", will present itself for recognition by the international community as emissaries of the people who will be representing the country from now on.

Former justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil announced that he would head an interim government with the suggestion that it has the backing of the US. He also said an agreement could be reached with the sons of Col Gaddafi to end the spiralling violence.

But confusion and controversy surrounded the announcement after the official spokesman for the Council disputed that version of events, saying that Mr Abdel-Jalil had expressed purely personal views. Abdul Hafiz Gouga added that there could be no accommodation with remnants of the regime because of "the huge human rights abuses" that had been committed. He insisted Mr Abdel-Jalil would only be a member of the Council rather than its head. In fact, said Mr Gouga, the organisation will have no hierarchy with the members, their numbers as yet undisclosed, all having an equal say on policy.

While the supposed new rulers of Libya grappled with the problems of politics, the conflict on the ground continued with rebels claiming that they had taken control of Zawiyah, in close proximity to Tripoli, and straddling one of the main routes into the capital.

A crowd of around 500 gathered chanting "The people want the fall of the regime" and "This is our revolution". Posters of Col. Gaddafi had been torn down and the red, green and black flag of the monarchy, which has become a symbol of the uprising, flew over the central square.

An attempt by forces loyal to the regime to recapture Zawiyah appeared to have failed. Video footage of blast damage to buildings, including the main mosque, showed the intense fighting.

Standing beside a half-dozen freshly dug graves of dead protesters in the cemetery, Mohammed Regdeh, one of those who organised the resistance, said: "We knew we had to fight hard to protect our gains. If Gaddafi had taken back Zawiyah then it would have encouraged him to think he could survive.

"But the truth that he cannot even control this town so near Tripoli is a great signal to him that he cannot win and that he is being defeated. We need to move forward from here and liberate our capital." According to reports from Tripoli, many areas in outlying districts had been abandoned by the security forces with activists setting up barricades and arming themselves with home-made weaponry.

Ibrahim Elkishi, a businessman who arrived in Benghazi after driving from Tripoli yesterday, said: "The shootings had become much less in the last day. The soldiers who still support Gaddafi and his militias are gathering but they have not launched any attacks in the last day or so. But everyone is very nervous, they do not know whether Gaddafi will just go or carry out more bloodshed before he goes."

A commander in the Libyan Army who has defected said yesterday in Tripoli that although the Gaddafi forces had scaled down their operations, it was likely to be a temporary move and the rebels in the area needed reinforcements which are being sent from Benghazi.

Colonel Awad Suleiman, of the armoured corps, said: "Gaddafi's best troops are there and they have been very ruthless in dealing with the protests. We know that the people are dying and we, the professional soldiers, now must step in to help them. If we don't then there will be many more massacres."

One of those heading to the frontline was Sergeant Abu Mussa, who had served for 18 years. "We have to move quite fast so we cannot take many heavy weapons," he said. "But we believe that if enough of us go then we can ensure victory. We can also persuade those still serving Gaddafi to join us. These killings cannot continue."

Last night there were reports that loyalist Gaddafi forces were moving towards the town of Misurata, which had fallen to the rebels. Libya's former Interior Minster, Gen Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi, who defected last week, said a "massive" army convoy is heading towards the town.

Misurata, he added, has no means to defend itself, he said, warning "there will be a real slaughter unless something is done".

The National Council, formed in Benghazi, insisted last night that they were "totally opposed" to any form of foreign intervention. Spokesman Mr Gouga stated " Libyans will protect themselves and liberate Libya themselves".

Gaddafi's 'Wikileaks' nurse heads for home

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has been abandoned by yet another key ally – his famous Ukrainian nurse.

Halyna Kolotnytska, 38, has joined the stream of government officials, diplomats and pilots who have deserted the Colonel as his control over the country collapses. According to Ukrainian television, Ms Kolotnytska arrived in Kiev early yesterday morning on a plane that evacuated 190 people.

"Mum got in touch yesterday. She said she was now in Tripoli," her daughter Tetyana Kolotnytska said. "She spoke in a calm voice, asked us not to worry and said she'd soon be home."

A US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks late last year claimed Gaddafi was deeply attached to Ms Kolotnytska, one of four Ukrainian nurses that took care of him. It described her as a "voluptuous blonde" who always travelled with Gaddafi as only she "knows his routine".

Ms Kolotnytska's daughter said: "He is employing other Ukrainian women as nurses as well. Mum is one of them. For some reason, he doesn't trust Libyan women with that."