MISRATA, Libya — Libyan’s Transitional Council leader announced he has handed authority to military commanders to resolve the situation in the remaining Gaddafi regime strongholds of Bani Walid and Sirt after the deadline for negotiations passed Saturday.
In a public meeting during his first visit to Misrata since the beginning of the revolution, NTC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil told a packed audience of local leaders, rebel fighters, media and civilians that the deadline for surrender has already been extended several times and would not be extended again.
“The situation is now in the hands of the revolutionary fighters,” he said.
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Jalil added the NTC had hoped there would be a “good spirit to open these cities peacefully” however, Gaddafi forces that withdraw to these areas are still “inflicting violence” leaving little hope for a peaceful solution, he said.
Jalil received a warm welcome by the people of Misrata as hundreds cheered and waved flags in the street to greet the countries transitional leader. After meeting with several rebel units, town and military leaders, and observing the destruction in central Misrata, Jalil thanked the people for their many sacrifices and praised the “heroes of Misrata”.
“When we rebuilt the cities of Libya, those with the most damage will be given priority,” he said. “Misrata has undoubtedly suffered the most destruction.”
Many of his words were met with cries of “Allah Akbar”, “Libya! Libya!”, and “we are all brothers” by a cheering crowd. But some in the audience also had questions and reservations about the new council. Jalil took several hours to listen to their opinions and respond to their concerns.
Over the past week, protests have been organized in Misrata’s town square regarding the announcement that selected Gaddafi regime officials would remain in place.
On Thursday evening, crowds chanted “No! No! to Gaddafi’s men,” as a speaker asked, “Why should we tolerate anyone who sided with this criminal. Everyone knows he has finished.” A group of young men made their way through the crowds chanting, “Gaddafi is over. Libya is free,” from a golf buggy commandeered from Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli. Others held anti-Gaddafi signs and banners.
“We trust our transitional council but for the people who killed there is no place for them in our new government,” said Asma Mohammed who joined the protest with her family. “Our wounds are still bleeding because of them.”
During his visit Jalil assured the people of Misrata that all who served under Gaddafi in any position would face a full investigation, starting with Jalil himself to send the message that no one is above the law.
Jalil served as the minister of Justice for 4 years under Gaddafi before joining the revolution in February.
The popular NTC leader departed from Misrata airport late Saturday afternoon on route for his first visit to Tripoli.
Meanwhile, the whereabouts of former Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi remain unknown. In a media announcement Thursday he dismissed rumors he had fled to Niger and reaffirmed his position that he would never leave Libya.
He claimed rebel fighters were not Libyan but “outsiders”, “mercenaries”, and “dogs” who were “trying to take the land from the Libyan people."
“They are all germs and rats,” he said claiming the people are marching in their millions across Libya in his support.
As his words were publicized, Libyans were instead gathering across the country to celebrate his downfall, and rebel leaders were gearing up for an advance on one of the few towns still loyal to Gaddafi, Bani Walid, with an advance planned for Sunday.
Reports of clashes within Bani Walid have already been filtering through since Friday. In a clash between rebel supporters and Gaddafi loyalists within the city, 4 have been reported dead and several wounded.
Rebel leaders had been hopeful of reaching a peaceful agreement with tribal leaders to avoid needless bloodshed, but attacks against rebel forces surrounding the area continue. Military leaders say the fight may take up to a week depending on the level of resistance.