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Libyan rebels send Gadhafi an ultimatum

HEISHA, Libya -- The rebels, saying they're closing in on Moammar Gadhafi, issued an ultimatum yesterday to regime loyalists in the fugitive dictator's hometown of Sirte, his main remaining bastion: surrender this weekend or face an attack.

"We have a good idea where he is," a top rebel leader said.

The rebels, tightening their grip on Libya after a military blitz, also demanded that Algeria return Gadhafi's wife and three of his children who fled there Monday. Granting asylum to his family, including daughter Aisha who gave birth in Algeria yesterday, was an "enemy act," said Ahmed al-Darrad, the rebels' interior minister.

Rebel leaders insisted they are slowly restoring order in the war-scarred capital of Tripoli after a week of fighting, including deploying police and collecting garbage. Reporters touring Tripoli still saw chaotic scenes, including desperate motorists stealing fuel from a gas station.

In the capital's Souk al Jumma neighborhood, about 200 people pounded on the doors of a bank, demanding that it open. Civil servants said they were told they would receive a $200 advance on their salaries for the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, which starts today in Libya.

Rebel fighters were converging on the heavily militarized town of Sirte, 250 miles east of Tripoli.

The rebels gave pro-Gadhafi forces there a deadline of Saturday, the day after the end of the Muslim holiday, to complete negotiations and surrender. After that, the rebels will "act decisively and militarily," said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the rebels' National Transitional Council.

His deputy, Ali Tarhouni, said in Tripoli that "sometimes to avoid bloodshed you must shed blood, and the faster we do this, the less blood we will shed." There has been speculation that Gadhafi is seeking refuge in Sirte or one of the other remaining regime strongholds, among them the towns of Bani Walid or Sabha.

"Gadhafi is now fleeing -- and we have a good idea where he is," Tarhouni said, without elaborating. "We don't have any doubt that we will catch him."

Some 90 miles west of Sirte, about a dozen armored, gun-mounted trucks were parked at a staging ground in the desert. A highway overpass provided some shade for rebels, most dressed in T-shirts and camouflage pants.

Commander Ismail Shallouf said patrols have gone 30 miles closer to Sirte, and occasionally have exchanged fire with Gadhafi fighters. Ahmed Abu Sweira, standing on the overpass, said the rebels are waiting for reinforcements for the final push.

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