Qaddafi regime rejects Libyan rebels' ultimatum to surrender
NATO is still hoping for a negotiated settlement with Libyan rebels to avoid more fighting, particularly in Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte. The deadline expires Saturday.
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Libya's transitional rebel leadership has issued an ultimatum to Muammar Qaddafi's last remaining stalwarts: Surrender by Saturday, or face a final military assault on the towns still loyal to Qaddafi.
A week after routing Qaddafi loyalists from Tripoli, the rebels appear anxious to bring a decisive end to the six-month conflict and firmly establish their sovereignty before a power vacuum can emerge, according to The New York Times.
His comments may have reflected a desire to resolve the awkward halfway status of the rebel leadership, which at the moment bears much of the responsibility of a new government but without the full legitimacy. There have been hints of friction in Tripoli as some brigades of fighters balk at decisions of the transitional rebel leadership, and militia members who came from east and west to invade the capital mark their jurisdictions, block by block, with spray paint.
The two key cities remaining in loyalists' hands are Qaddafi's coastal hometown of Sirte, and the southern town of Sabha. Wide swaths of territory in Libya's desert interior are also believed to be strongly loyalist, given that Qaddafi's wife and three children were able to travel through that area to safety in Algeria earlier this week. [Editor's note: This paragraph has been edited to correctly state who is in control of Sirte and Sabha.]
NATO said Wednesday that it is still hoping to negotiate a settlement and avoid a bloody standoff, particularly in Sirte. The rebels are moving toward Sirte from both the east and west, with plans to converge on the town for a final major battle by this weekend, The Christian Science Monitor reports.
Victory in Sirte is crucial because it would unite rebel-held territory from Tripoli in the west to the eastern city of Benghazi, giving the rebels uninterrupted control of the country's long coastal area and its many oil facilities.
Taking Sirte would also pose a key test of rebels' ability to persuade Qaddafi loyalists to admit that a 42-year era of dictatorial rule is over, lay down their arms, and integrate themselves in the new Libya.