TRIPOLI, Sep 12 – Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saadi has fled to Niger, an official said, as Libya’s new regime promised an interim government in 10 days and fighting flared at one of the deposed leader’s remaining strongholds.
“Today, September 11, a patrol of the Nigerien armed forces intercepted a convoy in which was found one of Gaddafi’s sons,” Niger government spokesman Marou Amadou said on Sunday.
It was Saadi Gaddafi, “the footballer”, said Amadou, who is also Niger’s justice minister.
“At this moment the convoy is en route to Agadez (northern Niger). The convoy could arrive in Niamey between now and (Monday),” he added.
Saadi, 38, the third of Gaddafi’s seven sons and known as a playboy, had last month offered to give himself up “if my surrender stops the spilling of blood.”
He was hired in 2003 to play for Italian first division club Perugia but barely kicked a ball when he was suspended for eight months after testing positive for nandrolone, an anabolic steroid.
He renounced his football career in 2004 to join the army, where he led an elite unit.
Niger vowed on Friday to respect international commitments if wanted Libyans entered its territory, and confirmed that three Gaddafi-era generals, including his air force chief, Al-Rifi Ali Al-Sharif, had arrived in Agadez.
Niamey has denied that Gaddafi himself was on its soil.
Mahmud Jibril, deputy head of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), said in Libyan capital Tripoli on Sunday that a new transitional government would be formed within 10 days.
Rebel forces were still “in the process of liberating Libya, and revolutionary combatants are still on the fronts,” Jibril said. Another government would be formed once “Libya is liberated”, he added.
NTC fighters on Sunday clashed with Gaddafi’s forces at Bani Walid southeast of Tripoli and moved closer to the Mediterranean city of Sirte, the toppled autocrat’s hometown.
In Bali Walid, 180 kilometres (110 miles) from Tripoli, an AFP correspondent said at least three fighters were killed and 15 wounded in skirmishes on the outskirts of the town.
Forces loyal to Libya’s new rulers have gathered there awaiting the final signal from their commanders to storm the oasis town.
NTC interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Saturday gave the green light to attack Bani Walid, Sirte and Sabha in the deep south. The deadline for pro-Gaddafi enclaves to surrender had passed, he said.
Clashes erupted in the afternoon in Bani Walid neighbourhoods of Al-Mansila and Al-Hawasim, according to fighter Ahmed al-Warfalli, but military commanders insisted that the main assault had yet to begin.
All afternoon, a pro-Gaddafi radio station broadcast an appeal to residents to rally against the attackers.
“They want to spread corruption and destruction everywhere,” said the broadcast.
“Go today, today, today — now you are armed there is no excuse. This is the time for jihad (holy warfare).”
By evening, ambulances were rushing to and from the front line, and an AFP reporter counted three fighters killed and 15 wounded. The fighters said they had lost as many as 10 men.
Skirmishes on Friday night saw four NTC fighters killed and 26 wounded.
Sami Saadi Abu Rweis, a fighter returning from Bani Walid, reported snipers everywhere.
“They are shooting at us from two kilometres away. Bani Walid is full of arms — every household has them.
“There is some type of treason going on. People pretended to be with the rebels but are really with Gaddafi.”
Another AFP correspondent said that west of Sirte, around 200 pick-ups with mounted light artillery had gathered before dawn in the desert and began moving south, cutting through villages to the west and southwest, meeting no resistance.
Armed with Katyusha and Grad rockets, anti-aircraft guns and heavy machine guns, they ripped down pro-Gaddafi flags en route, and were met by villagers flashing victory signs and shouting “Allahu Akbar (God is greatest).”
NTC leader Abdel Jalil arrived on Saturday to a red-carpet welcome at Tripoli’s Metiga military base where he was mobbed by hundreds of supporters.
The visit, his first to Tripoli since his forces seized the city last month, was eagerly awaited in the hope that it would help tackle rivalries emerging among the groups that overthrew Gaddafi.
Relations are particularly strained between Tripoli and the second-largest city Benghazi, which was the rebels’ wartime base; and the third-largest city Misrata, which endured a prolonged siege by Gaddafi forces.
Anti-Gaddafi fighters in Misrata have started to challenge NTC authority, refusing to turn over abandoned tanks as requested by interim leaders.
In western Libya, at least 12 people were killed and 16 wounded when two groups of fighters opposed to Gaddafi turned on each other, two officials said on Sunday.