Muammar Gaddafi laid out an apocalyptic vision for the country that had dared to overthrow him yesterday, telling his remaining supporters "let Libya burn" and vowing death for those guilty of disloyalty.
"Those who do not love me do not deserve to live," he said in his latest message broadcast yesterday.
Gaddafi threatened to unleash a "long war against the agents of colonialism" in a recorded audio message on the Al-Rai channel in Syria on the 42nd anniversary of his seizing power. He vowed: "We will not surrender, we are not women, we will keep fighting."
While the threat of the fallen dictator to unleash "a long war" may have sounded hollow, there was enough trepidation about his following among armed tribes for the opposition administration to extend the deadline for a negotiated settlement by another seven days.
Sirte, Gaddafi's birthplace, Bani Walid and Sabah are all towns under siege by the rebels.
The Transitional National Council (TNC) had given regime forces until today, the first day after Eid al-Fitr, the celebrations after the holy month of Ramadan, to surrender before the new date was set.
There was evidence of the power the Gaddafi family still wields psychologically in the areas around his last remaining strongholds. Closer to Bani Walid, where the dictator's son Saif al-Islam may be hiding, there were more of the regime's green flags flying and residents seemed reluctant to believe that a new order was really in place in Tripoli.
Some said they believed the regime would launch a guerrilla war from another country and may, one day, return. The fear of retribution was highlighted by the discovery of documents at a Tripoli prison allegedly showing that Gaddafi had ordered the execution of 100,000 people.
Rebel commanders in the town of Tarhuna claimed that telephone interceptions by Nato placed Saif al-Islam in Bani Walid along with Ali al-Ahwal, the regime's co-ordinator for tribal affairs. Their aim, supposedly, was to strengthen the resolve of the Warfalla, the biggest tribe in the country, many of whose elders have failed to support the uprising.
Gaddafi himself, according to the officers, was in Bani Walid but has since moved on to locations further south, Sabha and then Ghadamis on the Algerian border - an area that had seen several Western air strikes in the last few days.
Ahmed al-Saleh, fighting in the area for the past two months, said: "We are told that electronic intelligence puts Saif al-Islam in Bani Walid. Their [the regime's] communications can now be easily followed by Nato. This does not mean that he will stay there. We have not got enough men to surround Bani Walid. He can run away to the south."
According to the Algiers newspaper El Watan, Gaddafi had asked President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be given refuge, but the Algerian President, who has stated that the Libyan dictator will be handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague if he arrived in the country, refused to take the calls. Algeria had given sanctuary to members of Gaddafi's family on "humanitarian grounds". Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci pointed out that unlike the dictator, none of them had international warrants issued against them.
The decision by the TNC to extend the deadline for reaching a deal exasperated some rebel fighters on the ground. At Miga, the last place under revolutionary control before Bani Walid, Mohammed Fateh Abdullah said: "This is just making the war longer. We need to settle this and start our new Libya. We do not want a lot of people to die. But they [loyalists] have been given plenty of time to see sense. Why should a few more days make any difference?"
One of Gaddafi's sons, Saadi, had contacted the rebel leadership to say that he was prepared to negotiate a ceasefire, an offer which has been rejected by the TNC. Osama bin Jasal, another fighter, said: "So we have agreed to take a military step and we should get on with it. We have freedom fighters inside Bani Walid, inside Sirte. Once we begin our offensive they can rise up and help defeat the Gaddafi forces."
But many residents of Tarhuna said they welcomed the delay.
- INDEPENDENTBy Kim Sengupta