David Cameron’s government has revealed it is in urgent talks with up to 10 more senior figures in Colonel Gaddafi's creaking regime about possible defection, following the dramatic arrival in Britain of the Libyan dictator's chief henchman for much of his 40 years in power.
As former foreign minister Moussa Koussa (below) was reported to be “talking voluntarily” to British officials yesterday, the Libyan regime was struggling to limit the damage of the desertion, suggesting he was exhausted and suffering from mental problems.
But its capacity to stop the domino effect appeared to be limited. It is understood that British officials are already in contact with up to 10 leading Libyan officials about following Mr Koussa's lead and deserting Gaddafi.
The defection of Mr Koussa, who flew into Farnborough airport from Tunisia on Wednesday, was seized upon by Mr Cameron as evidence that the regime was crumbling.
Speaking at a Downing Street Press conference, Mr Cameron said: “The decision by the former Libyan minister to come to London to resign is a decision by someone at the very top. It tells a compelling story of the desperation right at the top of the crumbling and rotten Gaddafi regime.”
As Libyan diplomats at the UN said they expected further defections and reports emerged that a senior figure in the country's London embassy had changed sides, Mr Cameron said others should now “come to their senses”.
Meanwhile, speculation in Tripoli that a series of defections was imminent would not go away.
And it was reinforced by the confirmation that Ali Abussalam Treki, a top Libyan official who had also served as foreign minister and UN ambassador, had quit over the “spilling of blood” by government forces.
Rumours circulating through the Libyan capital focused most closely on Omar Abu Said Dudali, head of the external intelligence service; Mohammed Zwei, the |Secretary of the General People's Congress; deputy foreign minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, who accompanied Moussa Koussa at least as far as Tunis on the first leg of what turned out to be his flight, and — despite a declaration that he was in his office in Tripoli — Shokri Ghanem, oil minister.
Rebels claimed that Dudali had been sent to “liquidate” Mr Koussa but instead joined a group of officials at Tunisia's Djerba airport who were planning to defect.
The vanishing henchmen... who’s jumped ship, and who may follow
Mustafa Mohamed Abud al-Jeleil
Libya's former justice minister resigned on February 21 over the regime's “excessive use of violence against protesters”. He later alleged Colonel Gaddafi personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing.
Ali Abdussalam al-Treki
The senior Libyan politician reportedly defected yesterday after decades of service to Gaddafi's regime, including stints as foreign minister and United Nations representative.
The whereabouts of Colonel Gaddafi's brother-in-law — who is also his top security adviser — were unknown yesterday, leading to speculation that he could have joined the ranks of defectors.
Libyan opposition television reported that Libya's Oil Minister was one of four officials waiting at Tunisia's Djerba airport on Wednesday in the hope of joining Moussa Koussa in London.
Omar Abu Said Dudali
On hearing of Moussa Koussa's defection Gaddafi ordered the head of Tripoli's foreign security agency, Mr Dudali, to “liquidate” him, according to sources. Mr Dudali was later reported to be one of the officials at Djerba airport.
Muhammad Abu-al-Qasim al-Zwei (Secretary of People's Congress), Al-Ati al-Ubaydi (Deputy Foreign Minister), Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi (Interior Minister) and Libya's former UN ambassador Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham.