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By NBF News
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Libyan strongman Moamer Gadhafi urged his supporters yesterday to wage war on rebels who have seized most of Libya and put him to flight, as opposition leaders arrived in Tripoli preparing to take power.

Gadhafi's audio message came as the head of the rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, gave the grim assessment that more than 20,000 people had been killed in the drive since mid-February to end the strongman's 42-year iron-fisted rule.

Gadhafi, who has a $1.3 million price on his head, said in his third audio message since rebels overran his Tripoli headquarters on Tuesday, 'We must resist these enemy rats, who will be defeated thanks to the armed struggle,'

'Leave your homes and liberate Tripoli,' he added in the message broadcast on Syria-based Arrai Oruba television. Addressing the youth of the city, which rebels said they mostly control, he said, 'Fight them street by street, alley by alley, house to house. With rifles and pistols they will be annihilated.'

'Do not fear them, fear only God,' he said, telling them not to fear bombardment by NATO warplanes. 'They are just sound bombs.' Even as he was speaking, half of the NTC members were arrived in Tripoli to begin a transition to the post-Gadhafi era. 'Half of the government is here, and today we have had meetings with the military leadership,' NTC spokesman Mahmud Shamman told AFP, as rebel fighters were readying a final push to secure the capital and continued to look for the elusive strongman.

'At least eight members have already arrived. All major posts are here,' including health, comunications, interior, justice, information and defence, he said. Shammam, who said he had arrived by land from Tunisia, said, 'We are preparing to move our council to Tripoli' from the rebel bastion in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Rebel chief Abdel Jalil said that countries that had helped the rebel cause would be rewarded accordingly.

'We promise to favour the countries which helped us, especially in the development of Libya. We will deal with them according to the support which they gave us,' he told a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Rebel commanders said that while they control most of Tripoli, hot spots remain where sniper fire, rocket explosions and heavy weaponry make life dangerous. Fighting is concentrated along the perimeters of Bab al-Aziziya and the neighbouring Abu Slim district, where Gadhafi reportedly released, armed and paid former prisoners to fight for his regime.

Beyond Tripoli, rebel commanders said they were also readying a new advance against forces defending Gadhafi's hometown Sirte, 360 kilometres (225 miles) east of Tripoli and seeking to break a siege of Zuwarah, a town to the west.

Manhunt for him intensifies as rebels battle diehard followers

• He's headed for desert – ex-top aide
Rebel fighters battled diehard followers of Gaddhafi across Tripoli yesterday racing to find and finish off the fallen strongman and stifle any counter-attack by his family and other loyalists. As machinegun bursts and the crack of sniper fire kept the capital's two million civilians pinned indoors, with supplies running low, one excited group of rebels said they thought they might have trapped Gadhafi and some of his sons in a building though there was in fact no indication Gadhafi was inside.

'They are in a small hole,' said one fighter, Muhammad Gomaa but like many in the irregular forces that have overthrown the 69-year-old Gadhafi, he seemed to be expressing more hope than reality. 'Today we finish. Today we will end that.'

But his defected former prime minister Abdessalam Jalloud said yesterday Gadhafi is either in southern Tripoli or has already fled to the desert. 'He has only four people left around him. There are two possibilities: either he is hiding in the southern part of Tripoli or he left some time ago,' Jalloud, who fled Tripoli and has been in Italy since Saturday, told a press conference.

In the first scenario, Gadhafi will remain holed up in the south of Tripoli 'until roads reopen and then he will emerge perhaps disguised as a woman or something else to leave' the capital, Jalloud said.

'The second possibility is that he already fled a while ago and is either at the border with Algeria, or in Sirte or Sabha, and he will then cross the desert,' the ex-premier said. Jalloud was Gadhafi's right-hand man in the 1970s and 1980s but had been increasingly distanced from politics starting in the 1990s following a reported fallout with his childhood friend.

The sense of urgency extended to the new Libyan leadership, and to their Western backers, as they tried to unlock funds to bring relief and start rebuilding the country following six months of civil war and 42 years of Gadhafi's one-man rule.

'We need urgent help,' Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the government-in-waiting, told Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Milan as Western leaders tried to persuade others at the United Nations to ease sanctions and a freeze on Libyan foreign assets that were imposed to punish Gaddafi.

Gadhafi's opponents fear that he may rally an insurgency, as did Saddam Hussein in Iraq, should he remain at large and, perhaps, in control of funds salted away for such a purpose.