A defiant Muammar Gaddafi vowed Wednesday to fight on "until victory or martyrdom" and called on residents of the Libyan capital and loyal tribesmen across his North African nation to free Tripoli from the "devils and traitors" who have overrun it.
The broadcast came a day after hundreds of Libyan rebels stormed Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya fortress-like compound in the capital but found no sign of the longtime leader. On Monday, the rebels entered Tripoli, a metropolis of some 2 million people on the Mediterranean coast, pouring into the city in their thousands in a stunning breakthrough. They claim to control 80 per cent of Tripoli.
In an address given from an unknown location and broadcast on the local Al-Ouroba TV, Gaddafi asked: "Why are you letting them wreak havoc?"
Sounding subdued and without his usually fiery rhetoric, Gaddafi said he would fight "the aggression with all strength until either victory or death."
The pro-Gaddafi TV channel earlier quoted the Libyan leader as saying he had left the Bab al-Aziziya compound in a "tactical move" after 64 NATO airstrikes reduced it to rubble.
Tuesday's ransacking of Bab al-Aziziya, long the nexus of Gaddafi's power, marked the effective collapse of his 42-year-old regime. But with Gaddafi and his powerful sons still unaccounted for — and gunbattles flaring across the nervous city — the fighters cannot declare victory.
Gaddafi's chief government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, also managed to get word out in a phone interview with the same station, promising "we will be back to take Tripoli back."
Gaddafi has routinely addressed his supporters from state Libyan television, but the rebels have taken the channel off the air on Tuesday.
The rebel force entered the compound Tuesday after fighting for five hours with Gaddafi loyalists, using mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They killed some of those who defended the compound and hauled off thousands of rifles, crates of weapons and trucks with guns mounted on the back in a frenzy of looting.
Tripoli's new rebel military chief, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, said at nightfall that a small area of the vast compound was still under the control of regime fighters and heavy shooting was heard across Tripoli toward midnight.
The atmosphere in the compound was a mix of joyful celebration and tension. The air was thick with smoke from the battles, and the boom of mortars and the crackle of gunfire was constant. Rebels chanted "Allahu akbar" or "God is great" and on loudspeakers they cried: "Al-Hamdullilah," or "Thank God."