Muammar Gaddafi's Libyan government appeared to be preparing for a violent final showdown last night after it emerged that his beleaguered regime had fired a Scud missile at rebel territory as opposition forces closed in on Tripoli.
The rebels were attempting to identify the trajectory of the missile, which was fired from Gaddafi's stronghold of Sirte, as regime representatives headed for new talks with the opposition and a United Nations special envoy in Tunisia.
Despite rumours that Gaddafi is preparing to flee, opposition forces fear he is preparing a desperate last stand in Tripoli and towns still loyal to him, in the face of rebel advances on two fronts which have cut off his supply routes.
The defiant Libyan leader addressed the Lybian people yesterday, calling on them to take up arms and "defend their fatherland", predicting a swift end for "the rats" and the "coloniser" -- the rebels and Nato.
But, in a further sign of his weakening position, his deputy interior minister, said to be a long-time devoted loyalist, has apparently defected. Nasser al-Mabrouk Abdullah arrived in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, with nine members of his family. He claims to be on holiday.
The launch of the ballistic Scud missile, which has a range of more than 321km, was detected by a US Aegis destroyer in the Mediterranean on Sunday, according to reports.
The missile may have been targeting rebel troops around Ajdabiyah.
It is believed the missile landed in the desert.
"That it didn't hit anything or kill anyone is not the point. It's a weapon of mass destruction that Gaddafi is willing to train on his own people," said one western official. (© Daily Telegraph, London)