TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — The Libyan rebels' interim government announced it is moving from the country's second city of Benghazi to the capital Tripoli, another step toward taking control as bursts of heavy gunfire erupted around Moammar Gadhafi's last stronghold early Friday.
Before daybreak, eruptions of gunfire were heard coming from near the Tripoli neighborhood of Abu Salim, where rebels had battled Gadhafi's fighters holed up in residential buildings for most of the day Thursday.
Smoke rose from the area but a rebel at the scene early Friday said the fighting in Abu Salim had ended by nightfall Thursday.
Gadhafi is still on the run, but a minister in the rebel government said his capture is not a prerequisite for setting up a new administration in the capital.
"We can start rebuilding our country," Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni of the National Transitional Council told a news conference late Thursday. "He (Gadhafi) is the one who is basically in the sewer, moving from one sewer to another."
Even with his regime in tatters, Gadhafi has tried to rally his followers to kill the rebels who waged war for six months to bring down Libya's ruler of 42 years.
"Don't leave Tripoli for the rats. Fight them, and kill them," Gadhafi said in a new audio message broadcast on Al-Ouroba TV, a Syria-based satellite station.
Since sweeping into Tripoli on Sunday, the rebels have been struggling to take complete control. On Tuesday, they took Gadhafi's sprawling government compound, Bab al-Aziziya, and have also been battling for control of the nearby neighborhood of Abu Salim.
The fight for Abu Salim has been particularly bloody. Bullet-riddled corpses from both sides sprawled on the ground.
Outside Bab al-Aziziya, there was another grim scene, one that suggested execution-style killings of civilians.
About two dozen bodies — some with their hands bound by plastic ties and with bullet wounds to the head — lay scattered on grassy lots in an area where Gadhafi sympathizers had camped out for months.
The identities of the dead were unclear, but they were in all likelihood activists who had set up an impromptu tent city in solidarity with Gadhafi in defiance of the NATO bombing campaign.
Five or six bodies were in a tent erected on a roundabout. One of the dead still had an IV in his arm, and another body was completely charred, its legs missing. The body of a doctor, in his green hospital gown, was found dumped in the canal.
It was unclear who was responsible for the killings.
Despite the chaos, members of the National Transitional Council announced they are moving the rebels' interim government from the eastern city of Benghazi, which fell to rebel forces early in the conflict, to Tripoli.
"In the name of the martyrs ... I proclaim the beginning ... of the work of the executive office in a free Tripoli as of this moment," Tarhouni told reporters.
"I have a final message for everyone who is still carrying arms against the revolution," he said, "to let go of their arms and go back to their homes, and we promise not to take revenge against them."
(This version CORRECTS that fighting in Abu Salim ended by nightfall Thursday and that early Friday bursts were near but not inside that neighborhood.)