Defections in Gaddafis inner circle spreading

Tripoli: Another top Libyan leader, Ali Abdessalam Treki, has defected to Egypt and two desertions in as many days has spread paranoia among Muammar Gaddafi`s inner circle, stirring talk that many others may be preparing to follow, triggering a crackdown to stop them.

Treki, a former foreign minister and ex-president of the UN general Assembly who has worked closely with Gaddafi for decades, announced his exist on opposition websites, declaring "it`s our right to live in freedom and democracy."

Pan-Arab channel Al-Jazeera reported that Gaddafi`s intelligence chief and the Speaker of the Parliament had fled to Tunisia.

Some Arabic newspapers said Mohammad Abu Al Qassim Al Zawi, the head of Libya`s Popular Committee, the country`s equivalent of a parliament, is among the defectors, and reports of other defections, such as that of top oil official Shokri Ghanem, remain unconfirmed.

Al Jazeera said that these officials were part of the group who had headed to Tunisia for talks and decided to stay there.

The new spate of defections comes in the wake of desertion by high-profile Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, who once earned the nickname `envoy of death` for his role in the assassination of the earlier Libyan defectors.

The defections and ensuing speculation underscored the increasing tension in the Libyan capital where US and allies strikes have crippled Gaddafi`s military machine deployed mostly as a bulwark against his own people.

New York Times reported from the city that residents had reacted in shock and disbelief at the defection of Koussa and there was increasingly open talks among the public about the possibility of Brother Gaddafi`s exit.

Though the rebels are in retreat in the east, allied air strikes are showing no signs of relenting and have led to huge fuel shortages in the city fuelling people`s anger, Al-Jazeera reported.

The channel said all eyes where now riveted on Gaddafi`s sons and his powerful brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi, a top security adviser.

But amidst the talk of his regime crumbling, Muammar Gaddafi today struck a defiant stance saying he is not the one who should go — it`s Western leaders who have decimated his military with air strikes who should resign immediately.

Gaddafi`s message was run as a scroll by the state-owned Libyan television.

While the Libyan strongman is defiant, the opposition leaders are saying that the regime is crumbling from within and likened Gaddafi to a wounded animal.

"An injured wolf is much more dangerous than a healthy wolf. But we hope the defections continue and I think he will find himself with no one around him," opposition spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said in Benghazi.

Al-Jazeera and Arab newspapers said guards have been posted to prevent any other official from leaving the country.

Corroborating this, the defecting Libyan ambassador to the UN said: "most high-level Libyan officials are trying to defect.

But are under tight security and having difficulty leaving the country."

Many Libyan government figures have resigned since the uprising against Gaddafi began on February 15.

Interior minister Abdel Fattah Younis and justice minister Mustafa Mohamed al-Jalil have both left, as have numerous ambassadors around the world.