Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi remained defiant Sunday claiming the "rats" he has fought since February were escaping his clutches. For everyone else, the rebels' advance to the outskirts of Tripoli, the regime's supply lines being cut off, and Qaddafi's ministers defecting are signs the regime's end is near.
Analysis: Qaddafi's Exit Strategy
As rebel forces cut off the regime's supply lines while pressing in on Tripoli one joker remains in the deck: Muammar Qaddafi.
Gabe Kahn., 21/08/11 22:28
Libyan President Muaamar Qaddafi
Israel news photo: Wikimedia Commons
The only question is how - not if - Qaddafi will leave power.
But Qaddafi - who has vowed he will 'blow up Tripoli' if rebels enter the city and pleged to die on Libyan soil - seems intent of fighting to the last and extracting a maximum price in rebel blood in the process.
NATO officials say negotiations have taken place with members of the Qaddafi regime. At this stage the only negotiated conclusion the allies and the rebels would accept would be exile for the Qaddafi family, perhaps with the offer of immunity from prosecution, to avoid further bloodshed.
A spokesman for the rebels' National Transitional Council said late last week that Qaddafi had asked neighbouring governments - those of Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria - to find a home for members of his family, but not for himself. It is unclear how countries facing their own revolutionary movements could give sanctuary to the clan.
Of the four, Algeria is the most probable – it remained neutral in the conflict and opposed NATO intervention. The main possibility of exile outside the Arab world is in Venezuela, whose leader Hugo Chavez is an old friend of Qaddafi. Last week a Venezuelan envoy was in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba meeting with Qaddafi representatives.
However, Qaddafi himself and Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son seen as his political heir, both claimed on state television yesterday to be fighting on. Diplomats say serious consideration of where he might go was given up some time ago.
"He will be the last man standing in Tripoli," one source said.
All of Qaddafi's recent media appearances have been by telephone. If he is outside Tripoli, he could have gone to one of two personal fiefdoms – his birthplace of Sirte, and his ancestral home of Sabha in the south. Rebels have made no serious attempt to capture either.
But if Qaddafi is making a last stand Tripoli seems the more appropriate choice.
NATO and the rebel political leadership would like Qaddafi and son Saif al-Islam to be captured and tried for war crimes in the Hague, but such an outcome seems less and less likely as the noose tightens. For all his wild eccentricity, the colorful Qaddafi, who could have arranged his exile weeks or months ago, seems intent on fufilling his vows.
The attention grabbing Qaddafi may well have his heart set on going out in a blaze of glory - and front page headlines.