WITH reports conflicting on the whereabouts of Muammar Gaddafi last night, both Libya and Venezuela denied the embattled leader was seeking asylum.
As parts of Tripoli were in flames, reports emerged that the self-styled "chief of chiefs" had fled the country to join his friend, President Hugo Chavez in the South American oil-producing country.
The rumours were bolstered when British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had seen information to suggest that col Gaddafi had fled Libya and was on his way to Venezuela, a fellow OPEC member.
Another source at Mitiga airport, said that he saw three planes, one with Col Gaddafi on board, leaving early yesterday morning.
Pro-democracy campaigners said they believed he was headed to the southern town of Sebha, where he grew up and which he turned into a desert stronghold, to make his last stand.
"Sebha is Gaddafi's ancestral home, the place he was brought up and where the people will always be loyal to him," said one. "If he is there, then there will be a bloodbath because his allies will fight to the last man to defend him."
Last night Venezuela's information minister said the leader, who has ruled Libya for more than 40 years, was not coming.
"He is not travelling to Venezuela." His comments were matched by the Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kayem, who said the reports were "groundless".
Attracted to Col Gaddafi's revolutionary past, the socialist Mr Chavez also casts himself as an anti-US stalwart on the international stage, and the pair enjoy warm ties.
Diplomats said the information Mr Hague referred to was separate from reports in recent days by several Arab media organisations that Col Gaddafi was headed to Venezuela.
Mr Chavez, a popular figure in much of the Muslim world who took office 12 years ago, has visited Libya half a dozen times. Col Gaddafi travelled to Venezuela in 2009.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron urged Egypt's military rulers to bring opposition leaders into the government and end a state of emergency to demonstrate their desire to move toward democracy after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak.
"We want them to complete this transition," Mr Cameron told reporters in Cairo. "If Egypt can make this transition, it will have a huge positive and useful impact elsewhere."
The prime minister arrived in Cairo yesterday afternoon on an unannounced visit amid escalating tension in the Middle East, with security forces attacking anti-government protesters in Egypt's neighbour, Libya, and Iran planning to send warships through Egypt's Suez Canal.
Mr Cameron's visit to Egypt was the first by a Western leader since Mubarak fell on February 11.