- Category: International News
- Published on Monday, 22 August 2011 18:17
- Written by Rebels take Tripoli
Libyan rebels yesterday declared the "Gaddafi era" over after taking control of most of Tripoli, as jubilant fighters streamed into the capital to join battles near the strongman's compound.
Rebel commanders say they have taken control of about 80 percent of the capital, including the headquarters of state TV.
World leaders hailed the rebels' dramatic rout on Sunday of loyalist forces in Tripoli, urging Muammar Gaddafi to admit defeat, as Libyans around the world celebrated the veteran leader's imminent downfall.
"The Gaddafi era is over," rebel chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil told a news conference in Benghazi, eastern Libya, reports AFP.
Gaddafi was a hunted man yesterday as loyal remnants of his forces made a last-ditch stand in the capital.
Rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), told a news conference yesterday afternoon that he had no idea where Col Gaddafi was.
The rebels now claim to have detained three of Col Gaddafi's sons -- Saif al-Islam, Muhammad and Saadi.
Saif has been indicted with his father for crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court in The Hague is negotiating his transfer.
Two other sons, Khamis and Mutassim, were reported by Arab media to be with those still fighting.
Nearly 48 hours after a pincer thrust on Tripoli by the irregular rebel armies, launched in tandem with an uprising in the city, Gaddafi's tanks and sharpshooters appeared to hold only small areas, including his Bab al-Aziziya headquarters.
Gaddafi loyalists remain in control of the streets around the Rixos Hotel, where many Western journalists are based.
And rebels fighting in the west of the city were pushed back late on Monday.
"We are bracing ourselves for another night of intense street fighting," a Tripoli resident told the BBC.
Civilians, who mobbed the streets late on Sunday to cheer the end of dictatorship, stayed indoors as gunfire crackled. Gaddafi's prime minister showed up in Tunisia.
More Libyan embassies abroad hoisted the rebel flag.
Laila Jawad, 36, who works at a Tripoli nursery, told Reuters after the rebels swept into the city: "We are about to be delivered from the tyrant's rule. It's a new thing for me.
"I am very optimistic. Praise be to God."
But after a defiant audio address on Sunday, urging citizens to take up arms against rebel "rats", no more was heard from a man who is one of the world's longest ruling leaders and who vowed do die fighting rather than surrender.
Various officials said they did not know where he was.
Gaddafi's prime minister, Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, arrived late on Sunday on the Tunisian island of Djerba -- a favoured location for defectors and negotiators from Tripoli. Local sources could give no account of what he was doing there.
A rebel official in the eastern city of Benghazi, seat of the opposition National Transitional Council, said some of its representatives had slipped in to Tripoli in recent days to make contact with authorities hitherto loyal to Gaddafi with the aim of averting a breakdown of order in the capital.
There have been concerns that tribal, ethnic and other divisions among the diverse armed groups opposed to Gaddafi could lead to the kind of blood-letting seen in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. However, the presence of former Gaddafi aides in the rebel camp is cited by some as cause to hope the opposition can prove more inclusive than that in Iraq.
NTC head Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who was Gaddafi's justice minister until joining the revolt in February, told a news conference in Benghazi: "I call on all Libyans to exercise self-restraint and to respect the property and lives of others and not to resort to taking the law into their own hands."
Reuters correspondents saw rebel forces hunt sharpshooters from building to building. Sporadic gunfire and shelling kept civilians off the streets, waiting anxiously for the fighting to end after a brief outpouring of jubilation late on Sunday.
"Revolutionaries are positioned everywhere in Tripoli," said a senior rebel in the city, who used the name Abdulrahman.
"But Gaddafi's forces have been trying to resist.
"There is gunfire everywhere," he added, saying government tanks were in action near Tripoli's Mediterranean port and downtown near Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound. "Snipers are the main problem," he said. "There is a big number of martyrs."
A government official told Reuters 376 people on both sides were killed, and about 1,000 wounded, though it was unclear how the figures were arrived at. At the Rixos Nasr hotel, where the government had obliged foreign reporters to stay throughout the war, pro-Gaddafi guards prevented journalists from leaving.
Western powers who deployed air power in support of various rebel groups in different regions, urged the "Brother Leader" to accept his 42 years of absolute power were over, and to end the bloodshed after six months of civil war that has ebbed and flowed erratically across the sparsely populated desert nation.
US President Barack Obama in a statement: "The momentum against the Gaddafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant."
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the Libyan leader had "committed appalling crimes against the people of Libya and he must go now to avoid any further suffering for his own people".
Russia and China also issued statements saying they were willing to accept what the Libyan people decided, and hinted that Col Gaddafi should step down.
Civilians had flocked late on Sunday to Green Square, long the showpiece of the leader's personality cult, waving rebel flags. Some said they would rename it Martyrs' Square.
Young men burned the green flags of the government and raised the rebel tricolour last used by the post-colonial monarchy which Gaddafi overthrew in a military coup in 1969.
But yesterday, a Reuters correspondent with rebels moving in from the west watched commanders of the irregular force try to hold their men back from rushing ahead in the city, insisting they check buildings methodically for snipers.
It was slow work and there will little sign of coordination between rebel units. The all-green flags of the Gaddafi government were still hanging in many streets -- an indication that rebels did not feel safe enough to rip them down.
"We just arrived and our priority is to secure the city," said Hisham Bourajad, a commander of what he described as the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade as his force probed forward.