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Gaddafi's son in Niger - official

Muammar Gaddafi's playboy son, known for his love of fast cars, football and excessive partying, slipped into Niger over the weekend and began making his way to the capital, a Niger government official said.

The 38-year-old al-Saadi Gaddafi is one of the highest-profile former regime figures to flee to the landlocked African nation whose immense northern desert has been a haven for drug smugglers, al Qaida terrorists and now fleeing Libyan loyalists.

The discovery is bound to raise pressure on Niger, which has promised to turn over anyone wanted by the International Criminal Court which includes Gaddafi and a different son.

Niger has not said whether it will turn over other regime figures, like al-Saadi, who are wanted by Libya's new interim government but are not the subject of a warrant by the world court. Meanwhile, Gaddafi remains deeply popular in Niger, where he built dozens of mosques.

The country appears to have become the only exit for members of Gaddafi's inner circle. After the ruler's wife and several of his other children crossed into Algeria, that border was sealed.

It is unlikely they would flee east to Egypt because they would need to go through rebel-held territory, and the Chad frontier has proved difficult to cross.

Niger's border with Libya is vast and impossible for the country's ill-equipped and cash-strapped army to monitor. Since last week, waves of convoys carrying regime officials have drifted across the invisible line on undulating dunes. They include other top regime figures like Gaddafi's chief of security and the general in charge of the country's southern command.

The arrival of al-Saadi takes it to a new level of intimacy, indicating that even the ruler's family is choosing Niger as the best option.

"Nobody called us to tell us that these people were coming," government spokesman Morou Amadou said. "We intercept them as they are making their way south and they run into our patrols. We are allowing them to enter on humanitarian grounds since we cannot send them back to a war zone."

The arrival of the son also raised speculation that Gaddafi may eventually be headed to Niger. "There are strong suggestions that he is going to be convoyed here," said an immigration official who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

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