TRIPOLI: Moammer Qaddafi’s son Saadi has fled to Niger, an official said, as forces loyal to Libya’s new government met unexpectedly fierce resistance in the deposed leader’s remaining strongholds.
National Transitional Council (NTC) number two Mahmud Jibril said an interim government would be formed within 10 days but stressed that fighting was still going on and the liberation of Libya had yet to be completed.
"Today, September 11, a patrol of the Nigerien armed forces intercepted a convoy in which was found one of Qaddafi’s sons," Niger government spokesman Marou Amadou said on Sunday.
It was Saadi Qaddafi, "the footballer", said Amadou, who is also Niger’s justice minister.
"At this moment the convoy is en route to Agadez (northern Niger). The convoy could arrive in Niamey between now and (Monday)," he added.
Saadi, 38, the third of Qaddafi’s seven sons and known as a playboy, had last month offered to give himself up "if my surrender stops the spilling of blood."
He was hired in 2003 to play for Italian first division club Perugia but barely kicked a ball when he was suspended after testing positive for nandrolone, an anabolic steroid.
He renounced his football career in 2004 to join the army, where he led an elite unit.
Niger vowed Friday to respect international commitments if wanted Libyans entered its territory, and confirmed that three Qaddafi-era generals, including his air force chief, Al-Rifi Ali Al-Sharif, had arrived in Agadez.
Niamey has denied that Qaddafi himself is on its soil.
Civilians poured out of the desert town of Bani Walid on Monday after fierce fighting the previous day between Qaddafi loyalists and encircling NTC troops, an AFP correspondent reported.
But many more residents remained trapped inside the sprawling oasis, 180 kilometers (110 miles) southeast of Tripoli, for want of fuel for their vehicles, those fleeing said.
NTC fighters made little effort to check the identities of those fleeing as they passed through the checkpoints, the AFP correspondent said.
"Families are scared to death by this war," said Mohammed Suleiman as he passed through with 10 relatives crammed into the back of his white BMW.
Ezzedine Ramadan said the ferocity of Sunday’s exchanges had prompted him to leave.
"Qaddafi’s men were firing indiscriminately from the hills and rebels responded," he said as he he drove through with his family.
"We are expecting another attack today, so we left," he told AFP.
His wife Ibtissam said they had been forced to leave behind her brother.
"I am scared for those families stuck in the middle because there is no petrol," she said.
A medic at a field clinic outside Bani Walid said that at least 10 people had been killed in Sunday’s exchanges.
"We received 10 killed and almost 20 injured, among them a woman with chest wounds," said surgeon Riba Ahmed.
NTC interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Saturday gave the green light to attack the remaining strongholds of Qaddafi forces, including the ousted strongman’s hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and the southern oases of Sabha and Waddan, as well as Bani Walid.
In its latest update on Monday, NATO said warplanes under alliance command had hit 13 targets in and around Sirte, four around Waddan and one near Sabha.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said there would be no let-up in the alliance’s operations as long as Qaddafi loyalists continued to pose a threat.
"We have seen also during this weekend that remnants of Qaddafi’s regime still constitute a threat to the civilian population," Rasmussen told reporters in London. "So as long as this threat exists, we will continue," he added.
West of Sirte, an NTC field commander said that his forces had met fierce resistance as they advanced towards the city on Sunday.
"We advanced yesterday to a place called Checkpoint 50," 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Sirte, said field commander Umran Al-Awaib.
"There was strong resistance — we came under fire from a lot of Grads (rockets)."
In the capital, banks prepared to start withdrawing from circulation the 50-dinar banknote, which bears a portrait of Qaddafi and, with a value of around 40 dollars is Libya’s largest denomination.
"The banks have agreed to start withdrawing these notes and handing them in to the central bank," a branch manager of the National Commercial Bank, Talal Al-Dhagisi, told AFP.
The NTC number two said on Sunday that a transitional government would be formed within 10 days.
"This new government will include representatives from different regions in Libya," Jibril said, as the new regime faces mounting rivalries among the disparate groups that overthrew Qaddafi.
Relations are particularly strained between Tripoli and the second-largest city Benghazi, which was the rebels’ wartime base; and the third-largest city Misrata, which endured a prolonged siege by Qaddafi forces.
Anti-Qaddafi fighters in Misrata have started to challenge NTC authority, refusing to turn over abandoned tanks as requested by interim leaders.
In western Libya, at least 12 people were killed and 16 wounded when two groups of fighters opposed to Qaddafi turned on each other, two officials said on Sunday.