Saif al-Islam vows to fight to death as foreign minister is held

Gaddafi's son claims loyalists are ready to defend final stronghold in audio broadcast

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The Independent Online

Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam vowed to fight to the death last night as Nato jets pounded positions held by loyalist troops dug in around the ousted Libyan leader's besieged home town of Sirte.

Gaddafi's long-time heir-apparent insisted that his father was fine, and claimed that 20,000 armed supporters were ready to defend the city – the last loyalist stronghold along the heavily populated Mediterranean seaboard.

"We are going to die in our land," he said in the message broadcast on Damascus-based Al-Rai television station. "The resistance continues and victory is near.

"We would like to assure people that we are steadfast and the commander is doing well ... We will soon come to the Green Square to salute you, God willing," he said.

Saif al-Islam's claim of an impending victory for loyalist fighters came after the arrest earlier in the day of Colonel Gaddafi's foreign minister, Abdelati Obeidi.

Mr Obeidi is the latest in a series of high-profile figures in the Gaddafi regime that have defected, been captured or killed. He was arrested by rebel fighters at his farm in Janzour, a suburb of Tripoli, according to witnesses.

In a possible sign of discord within the Gaddafi regime, Saif al-Islam's statement came shortly after an apparently conflicting interview on Al-Arabiya television by a man claiming to be his brother, Gaddafi's third-eldest son al-Saadi, who said he was ready to mediate talks with the rebels in order to bring the fighting to an end.

"The most important thing is to stop the bloodshed," al-Saadi told the Saudi Arabian television network, claiming he was speaking on behalf of his father.

Al-Saadi said he spoke for his father and regime military commanders in calling for talks. He said that the rebels could lead Libya. "We don't mind. We are all Libyans," he said. "We have no problem to give them power."

Asked about his brother's statements, Saif al-Islam said his brother was under pressure: "This means nothing."

A rebel commander in Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, said earlier yesterday that Al-Saadi was trying to negotiate terms for his own surrender. Mr Belhadj said Al-Saadi first called him on Tuesday and asked whether his safety could be guaranteed.

"We told him 'don't fear for your life – we will guarantee your rights as a human being and will deal with you humanely'." He said Al-Saadi would be turned over to Libyan legal authorities.

"We want to spare bloodletting, therefore negotiation and surrender is preferable," Mr Belhadj said. "If this does not happen there is no other way except a military solution."

Libyan rebel leaders have refused previous offers to negotiate with the Gaddafi regime, and have given a deadline of Saturday for loyalist fighters in Sirte to surrender or face military action.

Rebel forces have been advancing toward three regime strongholds: the town of Sirte, Gaddafi's home town, as well as Bani Walid and Sabha, the latter hundreds of miles south of Tripoli.

The rebels have paused in their advance on Sirte, but frontline clashes continued, as have Nato airstrikes.

Hundreds of people from towns around Sirte were fleeing their homes yesterday ahead of the assault, with many streaming through a frontline checkpoint set up by NTC forces on the coastal highway at Tawarga.

Meanwhile, in a move to boost the ailing Libyan economy damaged by months of fighting, around £140m of newly minted Libyan dinar banknotes frozen under UN sanctions were transported to Central Bank of Libya in Benghazi by the RAF.