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Libyan rebels' seizure yesterday of the symbolic Bab al-Aziziya compound, the heart of Col. Muammar Qaddafi's regime, has solidified their momentum and bolstered Libyans' confidence that the 42-year leader's reign is over.
But while the eccentric Libyan leader may be finished, he has not yet been found. So long as he remains at large, he remains a potentially destabilizing factor, the Associated Press reports. The concern is that it could take months to find Colonel Qaddafi, which would jeopardize the country's stability during the transition period and perhaps embolden his remaining supporters to strike back.
In a radio address yesterday, Qaddafi chastised loyalists for letting the rebels "wreak havoc" on Tripoli and said he had left Bab al-Aziziya – a military and residential compound from which Qaddafi, his family, and his closest advisers had ruled the country. His government vowed to fight on, even if it takes years to defeat the uprising that began six months ago.
"We will turn Libya into a volcano of lava and fire under the feet of the invaders and their treacherous agents," said government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.
According to Mr. Ibrahim, thousands of Qaddafi loyalists are in the capital, prepared to fight at the right moment, and thousands more are streaming into Tripoli to help them, The Wall Street Journal reports.
One of the pockets of the city remaining in their hands is the Rixos Hotel and its perimeter. They have surrounded the hotel with gunmen and trapped foreign journalists inside.
But despite such pockets of resistance, rebels and their international supporters are swiftly moving to shore up the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the sovereign government of a new Libya.
"In a few hours, maximum a few days, we have a new Libya, a new, liberated Libya," said Mahmoud Shammam, the rebel government's information minister.
Meanwhile, US and European officials are working around the clock with representatives of the rebel government to prepare for their takeover.
In the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai yesterday, the rebels finalized a "stability plan" for post-Qaddafi Libya, crafted with assistance from American and British diplomats, The Wall Street Journal reports. Much of it focuses on rapid restoration of government services and the protection of infrastructure.
NATO, which has been involved in Libya militarily since March, has been reticent to declare victory. According to CNN, a senior official said the war was "not over yet, although it's close. We continue to watch for flare-ups from around the country, where there are still going to be pockets of resistance. We are also watching the chemical weapons and Scud missiles to make sure they are not used in the endgame."
The rebels hazard many guesses at where he might be – underground tunnels in Tripoli, his stronghold of Sabha, and Algeria are just a few of the possibilities that have been floated.
Fighting was reported in the city of Sabha, one of a handful of cities and towns still under Qaddafi's control. His forces in the city shelled towns outside Tripoli and fired Grad missiles at residential areas of the city and the airport, Reuters reports.
Missiles also hit the coastal town of Misurata, east of Tripoli, likely from Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, Bloomberg reports. Rebel forces were dispatched to spots around the town of Zlitan, about 90 miles southeast of the capital, to battle Qaddafi's forces there.