Libya's interim premier warned politicking among the victorious former rebels risks plunging the country into chaos before it has been fully liberated, as Moamer Gaddafi's forces kept up their dogged resistance in his hometown Sirte on Thursday.
Mahmud Jibril, a former senior Gaddafi economics official who is number two in the National Transitional Council, said that a power struggle had erupted among Libya's new leaders before the ground rules of a new constitution had even been set down.
"We are heading towards a political battle but the rules of the game are not clearly defined," Jibril told a meeting of former rebel forces convened to discuss the establishment of a new state based on the rule of law.
"We went from a national battle to a political battle, and this should not have happened before the creation of a state," Jibril said.
He warned of what he called "the frightening scenario of... (plunging into) chaos."
Wednesday's meeting came amid growing fears that the end of Gaddafi's 42-year rule could see the vast desert nation succumb to enmities between secular and Islamist politicians, or to the tribal and regional rivalries within the ragtag army that ousted him.
In an interview with Time magazine, Jibril said he could make good on a threat to stand down as interim premier as early as Thursday.
He "hinted that it could be as soon as Thursday, when a televised meeting of his group would detail what it had accomplished since Gaddafi's ouster," the weekly reported.
Jibril has stated repeatedly that he does not wish to hold office in the new government that the NTC has vowed to form once Sirte has finally fallen, preferring to help build a democratic Libya from the grass roots up.
He told Wednesday's meeting that he wanted to quit his post in order to help "develop civil society in Libya on solid foundations."
"The political battle needs money, power, organisation and weapons and I have nothing of the above," he said. "I have nothing left to offer to the Libyan people."
In Gaddafi's hometown Sirte, the fugitive strongman's loyalists kept up their resistance in the ever dwindling pocket of the Mediterranean coastal city they still control.
Loyalist forces now hold an area less than one square kilometre (0.4 square mile) in size, which is completely cut off by the besieging NTC forces who control of entire seafront as well as all the landward sides, AFP correspondents reported.
Fierce fighting raged on Wednesday in the streets of the Number Two residential neighbourhood where Gaddafi's fighters are holed up.
"It is intense," NTC commander Ali al-Rikabi said, adding that the mortar and machinegun exchanges centred on "four or five streets of the neighbourhood."
NTC fighters overran the adjacent Dollar neighbourhood late on Tuesday, capturing many of the snipers who have taken a heavy toll in their ranks in recent days.
"There is a sniper in practically every house. Sometimes the civilians who are still staying in the neighbourhood are cheating us," said NTC fighter Atallah Zein.
"They get out of their houses showing a white flag and then from behind them the snipers shoot at us and we can't return fire because we see only civilians."
Seven NTC fighters were killed and 76 wounded on Wednesday, medics said. At least 11 NTC fighters were killed and 95 wounded on Tuesday.
NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil said Libya's new rulers would compensate the wounded as well as the families of the more than 25,000 people killed during the eight-month uprising.
"Families of the martyrs, the wounded and the fighters themselves will be compensated," he said, urging Libyans to be patient, however, because of lack of funds.
Sirte once had 100,000 inhabitants, almost all of whom have fled. Fierce artillery battles and heavy gunfire over the past month have not left a single building intact, while looting has become commonplace as NTC fighters take their revenge on the Gaddafi bastion.
Among the few natives of Sirte in NTC ranks, anger at the destruction wreaked on their home city by their comrades runs deep.
"We are not happy about what has been happening in our city. It is the only city that is getting so much destruction," said Ibrahim Alazhry.
The close quarter fighting in Sirte has left little scope for NATO to offer air support as part of its UN-mandated operation to protect civilians. The alliance carried out no air strikes at all on Wednesday, it said in its latest update.