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Libya: more defections from Gaddafi aides
Gaddafi's intelligence chief and the Speaker of the Parliament had also fled to Tunisia.
Tripoli/London: Speculation mounted on Thursday that Muammar Gaddafi's sons are willing to discuss exit strategies after a few more top Libyan officials defected, stirring talk that many others may be preparing to follow and triggering a clampdown to stop them.
Top Libyan leader Ali Abdessalam Treki, who had been named country's new envoy to UN, spurned the job and defected to Egypt, Al-Jazeera channel reported as rebel forces battled to hold Gaddafi's troops around the oil town of Brega, to stop them from breaking out and capturing Ajdabiya, 80 kms away.
Treki, a former foreign minister and ex-president of the UN General Assembly who has worked closely with Gaddafi for decades, announced his exit on opposition websites, declaring "it's our right to live in freedom and democracy."
Pan-Arab channel Al-Jazeera reported that Gaddafi's intelligence chief and the Speaker of the Parliament had also fled to Tunisia.
Some Arabic newspapers said Mohammad Abu Al Qassim Al Zawi, the head of Libya's Popular Committee, the country's equivalent of a parliament, is among the defectors, and reports of other defections, such as that of top oil official Shokri Ghanem, remain unconfirmed.
Al-Jazeera and Arab newspapers said guards have been posted to prevent any other official from leaving the country. Corroborating this, the defecting Libyan ambassador to the UN said: "most high-level Libyan officials are trying to defect. But are under tight security and having difficulty leaving the country."
These defections came as BBC said that the top Gaddafi envoy, Mohammad Ismail, has been in London for the past few days for talks with British authorities. Confirming his presence on the British soil, the Foreign Office said that in all its contacts with Libyan officials, it had made it clear that "Gaddafi has to go".
But the Guardian newspaper said Ismail's visit was a sign that Gaddafi's inner circle was looking for an exit strategy. The paper said the Libyan official was a senior aide to Gaddafi's favourite son Saif ul-Islam.
BBC said the visit had come in the backdrop of mounting speculation that Gaddafi's sons, particularly Saif, Saadi and Mutassim are willing to discuss exit strategies for the whole family or only the Libyan leader.
News of Ismail's visit emerged after Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa flew to Britain and was said to have defected.
Though tightlipped about what disclosures Moussa had made about the thinking of Libya's first family, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the defection told "a compelling story of the desperation and fear at the very top of the crumbling and rotten Gaddafi regime".
US officials have said that though the rebel forces were hardly putting any pressure on the government forces, the coalition airstrikes had made a big dent on Gaddafi's war machine.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said that airstrikes had destroyed a quarter of the Libyan government's military capabilities.
Gaddafi's tanks and armour beat back a renewed attempt by the rebels to recapture Brega, but Al Jazeera said that the rebels were regrouping to make another attempt to wrest the strategic oil town, but were being hampered by lack of coalition air power.
Without air support, the ragtag rebel army were pushed back almost 200 kms from the key oil hub of Ras Lanuf all the way east to Brega, where they were trying to regroup.
The rout of the rebels comes as the West is backing off from arming them and pushing for a political solution instead.
US Defence Secretary told a Senate Committee hearing of American intentions to scale down its presence over Libya, but asserted that the rebels needed training more than guns and suggested other nations should do the job.
The defections and ensuing speculation underscored the increasing tension in the Libyan capital where US and allies strikes have crippled Gaddafi's military machine deployed mostly as a bulwark against his own people.
New York Times reported from the city that residents had reacted in shock and disbelief at the defection of Koussa and there were increasingly open talks among the public about the possibility of Brother Gaddafi's exit.
Though the rebels are in retreat in the east, allied air strikes are showing no signs of relenting and have led to huge fuel shortages in the city fuelling people's anger, Al-Jazeera reported.
The channel said all eyes where now riveted on Gaddafi's sons and his powerful brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi, a top security adviser.
But amidst the talk of his regime crumbling, Muammar Gaddafi has struck a defiant stance saying he is not the one who should go, it's Western leaders who have decimated his military with air strikes who should resign immediately.
Gaddafi's message was run as a scroll by the state-owned Libyan television.
While the Libyan strongman is defiant, the opposition leaders are saying that the regime is crumbling from within and likened Gaddafi to a wounded animal.
"An injured wolf is much more dangerous than a healthy wolf. But we hope the defections continue and I think he will find himself with no one around him," opposition spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said in Benghazi.
Many Libyan government figures have resigned since the uprising against Gaddafi began on February 15.
Interior minister Abdel Fattah Younis and justice minister Mustafa Mohamed al-Jalil have both left, as have numerous ambassadors around the world.
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