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By Martin Evans, Thomas Harding and Aislinn Laing in Johannesburg, telegraph.co.uk / 8:50PM BST 22 Aug 2011.
With his 42-year regime in tatters and three of his sons detained by the rebels, the dictator's whereabouts remained unknown.
In his final hours in charge an increasingly desperate Gaddafi took to the airwaves, telling his supporters: "I am in Tripoli. Go out. I am with you until the end."
But the audio broadcast was not accompanied by pictures, fuelling speculation that he had already fled the capital and was attempting to seek exile in a sympathetic country.
The 69-year-old dictator has not been seen in public since May and his last television appearance was more than two months ago, when he was pictured playing chess against the World Chess Federation President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
Nato intelligence operatives were using the "full array" of surveillance equipment available in a bid to pinpoint Gaddafi's exact location.