TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan state TV showed footage of an apparently healthy Muammar Gaddafi meeting officials in a Tripoli hotel Wednesday, ending nearly two weeks of doubt over his fate since a NATO air strike killed his son.
Gaddafi, who had not appeared in public since the April 30 strike on his Bab al-Aziziyah compound killed his youngest son and three of his grandchildren, appeared in his trademark brown robe, dark sunglasses and black hat.
“We tell the world: ‘those are the representatives of the Libyan tribes,'” Gaddafi said as he pointed to his visitors and then named a few of them.
An old man then told him: “You will be victorious.”
A projection screen behind Gaddafi showed a morning chat show on al-Jamahirya TV, the government’s mouthpiece and main propaganda arm. A zoom-in on the screen showed Wednesday’s date displayed in the corner.
Reuters journalists based at the same hotel said some rooms had been sealed off during the day for an event, but they had not seen Gaddafi. In the past he has made a dramatic entrance accompanied by a large staff of minders and aides.
Earlier Wednesday rebels fighting to unseat him said they had won a major victory in the western port city Misrata and had seized large quantities of weapons and munitions in a major victory there.
The rebels have been fighting across the North African country to end Gaddafi’s 41 years in power, backed by NATO-led air strikes which Western countries say will continue until Gaddafi is toppled.
The port city of Misrata is the last major rebel-held bastion in the west. Gaddafi’s forces have besieged it for almost two months, leading to fighting that killed hundreds.
The rebels entered the airport after a series of coordinated NATO bombings to take out artillery batteries and other military vehicles, a rebel spokesman named Hicham said.
“The revolutionaries...could not believe the amount and quality of the weapons they found there,” he said.
“So now, any supplies, weapons or munitions for future attacks by Gaddafi’s forces on Misrata have to come from outside the city. This means they would be exposed to NATO air strikes.”
Rebels have in the past complained that a lack of coordination with NATO was limiting their ability to make gains against Gaddafi’s forces. It was not possible to verify the rebel accounts independently.
The government says the rebels are armed criminals and al Qaeda militants, and NATO’s intervention is an act of colonial aggression by Western powers.
Reporting by Souhail Karam in Rabat, Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Isabel Coles in Cairo, writing by Sylvia Westall