TUNIS Muammar Gaddafi's former prime minister said on Tuesday he believed the deposed leader was still in Libya and would carry on fighting the country's new leaders until the end.
"I think Gaddafi ... has not left the country. I strongly believe, based on my knowledge of him, that he is fighting with his weapons and alongside his men," Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, who is in prison in neighbouring Tunisia, said in comments passed to Reuters by his lawyer.
"He will not give up and he will not lay down his weapons until the end," he said.
The former prime minister is in a prison about 30 km outside the Tunisian capital while the authorities consider a request from Libya's National Transitional Council for his extradition.
"I am ready to cooperate with the transitional council but on condition that they drop all requests for extradition and the negative campaigns against me," he said. "I hope to be a part of the solution in Libya and not part of the problem."
Al-Mahmoudi was Gaddafi's prime minister from 2006. At the height of Libya's civil war he gave televised briefings to foreign reporters during which he said Gaddafi would not leave office and condemned the NATO air strikes on Libya.
Soon after Gaddafi's rule collapsed, he left Libya and sought refuge in Tunisia. A Tunisian court sentenced him to six months in jail for illegally entering the country, but this was later overturned on appeal.
He was kept in prison pending a decision on his extradition. His lawyer said last week that al-Mahmoudi had started a hunger strike to protest against his detention.
The lawyer, Mabrouk Korchid, visited him in jail on Tuesday and afterwards passed on to Reuters the comments which he said al-Mahmoudi had dictated to him.
The former prime minister, who is not on the list of former Libyan officials wanted by the International Criminal Court, distanced himself from the repression carried out by Gaddafi's administration.
"I tell you one thing: I was hated by Gaddafi's entourage," al-Mahmoudi said. "I am convinced that I have done nothing bad to the Libyans," he said. "My role was to ensure food supplies for the Libyan people, particularly during the crisis."
"The French know very well that this was the role I played ... I had no military role."
He said he had left Libya after NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil telephoned him and asked him to lay low until the situation in the country had stabilised.
He appealed to the Tunisian authorities to let him go free.
"It's a shame that the Tunisian government has behaved in such a way with me," he said. "I am a friend of Tunisia. It was me who opened the borders with Tunisia each time after Gaddafi demanded that they be shut."
(Writing by Christian Lowe)