Libya’s rebels are still hunting for Colonel Muammer Gaddafi 11 days after the fall of the capital, with no authoritative sightings of him since his Tripoli compound was sacked last week.

Opposition fighters, backed by Nato airstrikes, have been advancing towards three regime strongholds: Sirte; Bani Walid, 140km south-east of Tripoli; and the desert town of Sabha, 700km south of the capital.

The rebels’ National Transitional Council said it was pushing back by a week its Saturday deadline for the surrender of the coastal town of Sirte, Col Gaddafi’s hometown, after progress in talks with local leaders there.

Mohammed Zawawi, a National Transitional Council spokesman, told Reuters: “We’re not in a rush to get in to Sirte. It has no economic importance and we’re not going to lose casualties for it.”

While the deadline extension was officially only for Sirte, rebels said it would also include Bani Walid and Sabha.

There has been speculation that the colonel is hiding in one of those three towns.

Col Gaddafi's wife, Safiya, sons Mohammed and Hannibal, and daughter Aisha fled to Algeria on Monday, widely seen as confirmation that the longtime leader has lost his grip on the country. Aisha gave birth to her fourth child on Tuesday in Algeria.

The Algerian newspaper El Watan reported that Col Gaddafi himself also sought refuge, but the Algerian president refused to take his phone calls. Algeria's foreign minister insisted on Thursday that Col Gaddafi was not in Algeria. Asked on Europe-1 radio if Col Gaddafi could be given asylum, Mourad Medelci said: “I don't believe so.”

Tripoli was quiet on Thursday with most businesses shut, as Libyans marked the second day of the Eid holiday to mark the end of the Ramadan fast.

A large crowd gathered early in the morning in Martyrs’ Square, the former Gaddafi stronghold of Green Square, as the September 1 anniversary of the colonel’s coup arrived without incident, despite fears that loyalists might use it as a trigger for violence.

The Martyrs’ Square assembly was smaller than on previous nights, with some people holding their ears and walking away amid explosions of heavy rebel celebratory fire, including with an anti-aircraft gun.

One of the biggest worries about Libya’s stability is the large number of weapons in the country after the militia culture of the Gaddafi dictatorship and six months of war.

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