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Libyan rebels move base to Tripoli

Libya's rebels have announced the transfer of their leadership to Tripoli from their Benghazi base, boosted by a UN decision to release millions of dollars of cash aid.

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Libyan rebel fighters celebrate as they drive through Tripoli's Qarqarsh district August 22, 2011. (Bob Strong/Reuters)

Libya's rebels have announced their leadership is moving to Tripoli from the Benghazi base, after the U.N.decided to release millions of dollars of cash aid within days.

"I declare the beginning and assumption of the executive committee's work in Tripoli," Ali Tahuni, a senior official of the rebel National Transitional Council, told a press conference in the capital.

"Long live democratic and constitutional Libya and glory to our martyrs," he said, announcing the holders of key posts in a new provisional government, AFP reports.

Tahuni, the executive committee's vice-chairman and minister of oil and economics, said NTC head Mustafa Abdel Jalil would arrive in Tripoli as soon as the security situation permitted.

Half of the NTC members arrived yesterday in Tripoli, as both sides of the conflict have been accused of taking part in mass executions following the discovery of scores of bodies across Tripoli, Daily Telegraph reports.

"Half of the government is here, and today we have had meetings with the military leadership," NTC spokesman Mahmud Shamman told AFP, as rebel fighters continued to look for the elusive strongman.

Colonel Gaddafi’s supporters have been implicated in the assassination of a large number of political opponents, while the bodies of at least 30 loyalists were found bound and shot close to the center of the capital, it says.

Political prisoners were among those reportedly killed under orders of Gaddafi as rebel forces stormed into Tripoli, it says.

A British medical worker based at a hospital in the capital reported seeing the bodies of 17 men who had been shot at close range.

It is thought the men were political activists who were rounded up and arrested in recent weeks and held close to Gaddafi’s Bab-al-Azizia

The news comes as the U.N. Security Council released $1.5 billion of seized Libyan assets to be used for emergency aid after agreement among the U.S. and South Africa.

AFP reports:

The assets were frozen in U.S. banks, but South Africa had blocked the release on the UN Security Council's sanctions committee, saying it would imply recognition of the NTC.

The last-minute accord with South Africa meant that the United States did not press for a Security Council vote. A new request was immediately made and approved by the Libya sanctions committee, diplomats said.

"The money will be moving within days," a US diplomat said.

The new request made no mention of the NTC, only that the money would be directed through the "relevant authorities."

Washington said yesterday the money would pay for UN programs, energy bills, health, education and food, and would not be used for any "military purposes."

Other countries also agreed to release much-needed funds, with reports that the Contact Group on Libya had agreed in Istanbul to speed up the release of some $2.5bn in frozen Libyan assets by the middle of next week.

In Milan, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Rome would release next week $504m frozen in Italian banks.

Rebel forces stormed into Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi's sprawling compound in the centre of the capital three days ago, defeating his fighters in fierce battles across Tripoli.

But Gaddafi has yet to be captured and rebel forces - who think he is holed up in apartments near his compound - want him captured alive and tried.

Yesterday, Gaddafi, who has a $1.7m price on his head, called on the Libyan people to continue fighting.

"We must resist these enemy rats, who will be defeated thanks to the armed struggle."

"Leave your homes and liberate Tripoli," he added in the message broadcast from an unknown location on a Syria-based television station, Arrai Oruba.

Addressing the youth of the capital, he said, "Fight them street by street, alley by alley, house to house. With rifles and pistols they will be annihilated."

"Do not fear them, fear only God," he said, telling them not to fear bombardment by NATO warplanes. "They are just sound bombs."

Some 20,000 are believed to have been killed since the uprising began in mid-February against Gaddafi's 42-year, iron-fisted rule.

Meanwhile, rebel commanders said they were also preparing a new advance against forces defending Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, 360km east of Tripoli, and attempting to end the siege at Zuwarah, to the west.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/110825/libyan-rebels-base-tripoli