Africa

Muammar Gaddafi's presidential bolt-hole

Col Gaddafi's compound
Image caption Col Gaddafi's compound is heavily fortified

Bab al-Aziziya, the nerve centre of Col Muammar Gaddafi's regime, has long been a symbol of the Libyan leader's defiance.

The sprawling presidential compound in central Tripoli houses Col Gaddafi's private quarters as well as military barracks and other installations.

At its heart is the shell of his former residence, partially destroyed by American laser-guided "smart" bombs in 1986.

Image caption A monument has been erected outside the building bombed by the US in 1986

Col Gaddafi claimed that his adopted baby daughter Hanna had been killed in the attack, ordered by former US President Ronald Reagan. The Libyans had been accused of the bombing of a West Berlin discotheque in which two American GIs were killed.

The building has not been rebuilt and has been renamed House of Resistance. In front of it stands a giant, gold, clenched fist crushing an American plane.

In the past few months, the iconic building has formed the backdrop for Col Gaddafi's televised addresses, as it did in 2001 when the Libyan leader spoke out angrily against the Lockerbie verdict.

And it is here that this week ordinary Libyans rallied in support of Col Gaddafi, scaling the monument and straddling the plane in front of the cameras of the invited media.

About a quarter of a mile away, nestling among the trees, stands Col Gaddafi's Bedouin-style tent, one of his homes for the past four decades. It was here, in 2004, that the then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was entertained as he became the first German chancellor to visit Libya.

Image caption The iconic building has become a symbol of Libyan national defiance

Col Gaddafi doesn't stay long in one location and his current whereabouts are a mystery.

Last weekend, a three-story administration building about 50m (160ft) away from the tent was reported to have been almost demolished in an allied air strike. Coalition officials insist their target was a command and control facility Col Gaddafi used to communicate with his troops.

It is reported that key military leaders and personnel are based in the compound.

A day before the strike, a BBC team had visited the heavily fortified, high-walled complex.

At the south-eastern side of the compound is a football pitch, probably used by the families that inhabit the rows of houses just inside the compound.

Image caption Ordinary Libyans came to the compound to rally in support of Col Gaddafi

"The streets with the low houses reminded me a bit of a refugee camp in Gaza," said one member of the team.

The houses are thought to be military accommodation. The team saw a small child peering out of one of them.

Beyond these houses is a lower wall and then an entrance into the compound's "inner sanctum". All visitors are security checked and have to pass through metal detectors.

The BBC team saw a lot of soldiers inside the compound and some old, light anti-aircraft guns attached to the back of trucks.

"There was a feeling that there were bunkers underground - I saw some air vents," says one member of the BBC team.

Libyan state TV has been broadcasting pro-Gaddafi rallies at the compound on a regular basis.

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