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UK anger at false claims over Gaddafi's son

By Andrew Grice

British ministers expressed concern yesterday after Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam defied claims that he had been captured by speaking to Western media in a Tripoli hotel.

The propaganda coup for the Gaddafi regime was discussed by the Government's National Security Council, which was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg after David Cameron returned to join his family on holiday in Cornwall.

There was alarm in Government circles that the International Criminal Court (ICC) appeared to endorse claims by anti-Gaddafi forces on Monday that the Libyan dictator's favoured successor had been captured. Talks were said to be under way about handing him over to The Hague to face trial.

One Government source admitted that Saif's appearance at the Rixos Hotel was a blow. "It wasn't what we were expecting. But these things happen in the fog of war and there will be setbacks and surprises along the way," he said.

British officials do not believe that Saif escaped after being captured. They suspect there was a "miscommunication" between rebel fighters on the ground in Tripoli and their leaders that he was being held.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, criticising the ICC.

He said: "It doesn't say very much, I'm afraid, as someone who supports the ICC, for the credibility of that organisation that it should apparently have endorsed the information that the son had been taken into custody."

Mr Clegg insisted that Saif's media appearance gave a misleading impression because he was free to move around in only a limited part of Tripoli.

"This is not the sound of some great comeback from Gaddafi's regime. He is not roaming freely through Tripoli: he and the remaining pro-Gaddafi forces are cornered," he said.

"The remnants of the Gaddafi regime are now cornered and it is only matter of time before they are finally defeated and Libya is completely free."

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, insisted that the world was now witnessing "the death throes of the Gaddafi regime".

But he warned: "These are still difficult and dangerous times in Libya. There are many weapons out there, former soldiers, current Libyan soldiers, mercenaries who have been in the pay of Gaddafi. So still, I think, there may be some formidable problems ahead."

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