Region | Libya

Libyan rebels claim control of most of Tripoli

Libyan rebels claimed to be in control of most of the Libyan capital on Monday after their lightning advance on Tripoli

  • Agencies
  • Published: 01:00 August 22, 2011

  • Image Credit: Reuters
  • A man holds a weapon and a Kingdom of Libya flag as people gather near the courthouse in Benghazi to celebrate the entry of rebel fighters into Tripoli in this August 22, 2011 file photo.
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Tripoli:  The White House said Monday it had "no evidence" that Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi had left Tripoli after rebels against his rule largely overran the city.

"That is the best information that we have," spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. "There's no evidence to indicate that he's left."

Timeline: More than six months of conflict in Libya

Two bodies have been found that could be those of Gaddafi's son Mohammad and his intelligence chief Abdallah Senussi, Al Jazeera television reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources.

Libyan rebels claimed to be in control of most of the Libyan capital on Monday after their lightning advance on Tripoli heralded the fall of Gaddafi's nearly 42-year regime.

Scattered battles erupted, and the mercurial leader's whereabouts remained unknown.

Third Gaddafi son captured

Libya's opposition leader says rebels captured another of Gaddafi's sons - raising to three the number of the Libyan leader's children in custody.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, told the Associated Press on Monday that rebels detained Al Saadi Gaddafi on Sunday night along with his brother Saif Al Islam.

Gaddafi's sons and a daughter have all played roles in their father's regime, some in diplomatic or business roles. Al Saadi and his brothers Mutassim and Khamis all headed military brigades.

The International Criminal Court has confirmed the capture of Saif Al Islam, who along with his father faces charges of crimes against humanity. Another son, Mohammad, was under house arrest.

Egypt

Egyptian Foreign Minister says Egypt recognises Libya's National Transitional Council, Al Arabiya TV has said.

State TV

State TV headquarters was now under rebel control: Libyan State TV has gone off air, a rebel spokesman said.

Arab League chief backs Libya rebel council

Arab League chief Nabil Al Araby expressed his "full solidarity" with Libya's rebel National Transitional Council on Monday, as rebel forces battled Muammar Gaddafi's loyalists for control of the capital Tripoli.

"Arab League chief Nabil Al Araby offers his full solidarity with the ongoing efforts under the leadership of the National Transitional Council," a statement from the League said.

"This is a historical moment that marks a milestone in the history of the Libyan people. We hope the council's efforts are successful in leading the new phase and protecting the independence, sovereignty and integrity of Libyan lands," the statement added.

Post-war planning

The international community called on Gaddafi to step down and moved ahead with post-war planning as euphoric residents celebrated in the Green Square, the symbolic heart of the Gaddafi regime. Colleagues warned he wouldn't go easily.

Two of his sons were captured late Sunday.

The Western alliance promised to maintain its air campaign until all pro-Gadhafi forces surrender or return to barracks.

Nato warplanes have hit at least 40 targets in and around Tripoli in the past two days - the highest number on a single geographic location since the bombing started more than five months ago, officials said.

Gaddafi son in the leader's Bab Al Azizya compound - TV

One of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's sons, Al Mutassim, is in the leader's Bab Al Azizya compound in Tripoli, Al Arabiya television said on Monday.

Earlier the Dubai-based channel said that tanks supporting the leader were positioned at the compound's entrance.

Just a matter of time

A top State Department diplomat says "it's only a matter of time now" before besieged Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has to step down.

Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman says "I think what's clear is that the rebels are winning".

However Feltman said US officials don't know Gaddafi's whereabouts.

Interviewed on ABC's Good Morning America Monday from Cairo, Feltman said: "The rebels are clearly taking over the city. They are clearly taking over the institutions".

He said American officials have been told the rebels have seized control of Libya's state television.

Asked if he believed the Al Qaida terrorist network would gain new footing in Libya, Feltman says the first step in a post-Gaddafi setting is "trying to prevent some kind of cycle where people act out their own retributions," as happened when Saddam Hussain fell in Iraq.

Planning for a Gaddafi-free Libya

The European Union is actively planning for a Libya without Muammar Gaddafi following the rapid advance of rebel forces over the weekend and urged the Libyan leader to leave “without further delay”.

"We seem to be witnessing the last moments of the Gaddafi regime and we call on Gaddafi to step down without further delay and avoid further bloodshed," Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, said on Monday. "We have post-Gadaffi planning going on ... we do have a number of scenarios that we have worked in terms of our assistance post-Gaddafi," he said.

The EU urged the rebels, who have been fighting to oust Gaddafi since nearly six months, to act responsibly and protect civilians as they push into the capital Tripoli.

War crimes court seeks transfer of Gaddafi son

The International Criminal Court is seeking the transfer of Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif Al Islam to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity, the court's spokesman said Monday.

"The court as a whole is involved," Fadi Al Abdullah told Agencies, answering 'yes' when asked if that meant discussions were underway with the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) over Saif Al Islam's transfer.

South Africa has no plans to fly Gaddafi out of Libya: minister 

South Africa has not sent planes to Libya to allow its embattled leader Muammar Gaddafi to leave the country, Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said Monday.

"The South Africa government would like to refute and dispell the rumours and claims that it has sent planes to Libya to fly Colonel Gaddafi and his family to an undisclosed location," she told reporters.The North African country and Gaddafi’s future should be decided by Libyans themselves, Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters in Johannesburg. South Africa also apppealed to the Libyan transitional government to restore order in the country.

Clashes near Gaddafi's Tripoli residence

Euphoric Libyan rebels seized control of most of Tripoli in a lightning advance, celebrating the victory in Green Square, the symbolic heart of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Gaddafi's defenders quickly melted away as his 42-year rule crumbled, but the leader's whereabouts were unknown and pockets of resistance remained.

State TV broadcast Gaddafi's bitter pleas for Libyans to defend his regime. Opposition fighters captured his son and one-time heir apparent, Saif Al Islam, who along with his father faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. Another son was under house arrest.

"It's over, frizz-head," chanted hundreds of jubilant men and women massed in Green Square late Sunday, using a mocking nickname of the curly-haired Gaddafi. The revelers fired shots in the air, clapped and waved the rebels' tricolor flag. Some set fire to the green flag of Gaddafi's regime and shot holes in a poster with the leader's image. 

Obama: Rule has come to an end

Earlier on Sunday night, US President Barack Obama said that Gaddafi's rule in the country has come to an end and asked him to relinquish “power once and for all”.

“Tonight, the momentum against the Gaddafi regime has reached a tipping point,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. “The Gaddafi regime is showing signs of collapsing.”

“Muammar Gaddafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end,” Obama said, adding that “Gaddafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya.”

The US president also called on the main opposition group, the National Transitional Council (NTC), to “steer the country through a transition by respecting the rights of the people of Libya, avoiding civilian casualties, protecting the institutions of the Libyan state, and pursuing a transition to democracy that is just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya”.

He said the people of Libya are showing that the pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the “iron fist of a dictator”. Obama vowed that the US will continue to “insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected” and “support the peaceful transition of democracy”. 

Heavy fighting in Tripoli

The sound of heavy fighting was heard Monday morning near the residence of Gaddafi, while forces loyal to the Libyan leader continued to fight rebels in the capital Tripoli and controlled 15 to 20 per cent of the city, a rebel spokesman told Al Jazeera television on Monday. "They are basically controlling four areas so far ... that represents only about 15 to 20 percent of the city," the rebel, identified as "Nasser", said.

The startling rebel breakthrough, after a long deadlock in Libya's 6-month-old civil war, was the culmination of a closely coordinated plan by rebels, Nato and anti-Gaddafi residents inside Tripoli, rebel leaders said. Rebel fighters from the west swept over 30km in a matter of hours Sunday, taking town after town and overwhelming a major military base as residents poured out to cheer them. At the same time, Tripoli residents secretly armed by rebels rose up.

When rebels reached the gates of Tripoli, the special battalion entrusted by Gaddafi with guarding the capital promptly surrendered. The reason: Its commander, whose brother had been executed by Gaddafi years ago, was secretly loyal to the rebellion, a senior rebel official Fathi Al Baja told The Associated Press.

Al Baja, the head of the rebels' political committee, said the opposition's National Transitional Council had been working on the offensive for the past three months, coordinating with Nato and rebels within Tripoli. Sleeper cells were set up in the capital, armed by rebel smugglers. On Thursday and Friday, Nato intensified strikes inside the capital, and on Saturday, the sleeper cells began to rise up. 

Crude down as Libya rebels enter Tripoli

Crude fell in Asian trade Monday as rebels advanced in Tripoli. "This is really the main news event," Victor Shum, an analyst with energy consultancy Purvin and Gertz in Singapore, said of the situation unravelling in Libya. "Rebels have entered Tripoli... there have also been reports Gaddafi will get out of the country," Shum told Agencies.

Libya, a key crude-exporting nation that was producing some 1.49 million barrels per day before the rebellion broke out in mid-February, has seen its output slashed significantly since the revolt began. About 85 percent of Libyan oil output was exported to Europe until the revolt disrupted the country's production.

By the early hours of Monday, opposition fighters controlled most of the capital. The seizure of Green Square held profound symbolic value – the plaza was the scene of pro-Gaddafi rallies organised by the regime almost every night, and Gaddafi delivered speeches to his loyalists from the historic Red Fort that overlooks the square. Rebels and Tripoli residents set up checkpoints around the city, though pockets of pro- Gaddafi fighters remained. In one area, AP reporters with the rebels were stopped and told to take a different route because of regime snipers nearby.

Abdul Hakim Shugafa, a 26-year-old rebel fighter, said he was stunned by how easy it was. He saw only about 20 minutes of gunbattles as he and his fellow fighters pushed into the capital at nightfall. "I expect Libya to be better," said Shugafa, part of a team guarding the National Bank near Green Square. "He (Gaddafi) oppressed everything in the country - health and education. Now we can build a better Libya." 

Key aides abandon Gaddafi

In a series of angry and defiant audio messages broadcast on state television, Gadhafi called on his supporters to march in the streets of the capital and "purify it" of "the rats." He was not shown in the messages.

His defiance raised the possibility of a last-ditch fight over the capital, home to 2 million people. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim claimed the regime has "thousands and thousands of fighters" and vowed: "We will fight. We have whole cities on our sides. They are coming en masse to protect Tripoli to join the fight."

But it seemed that significant parts of Gadhafi's regime and military were abandoning him. His prime minister, Al Baghdadi Al Mahmoudi, fled to a hotel in the Tunisian city of Djerba, said Guma Al Gamaty, a London-based rebel spokesman.

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Gaddafi's regime was "clearly crumbling" and that the time to create a new democratic Libya has arrived.

It was a stunning reversal for Gaddafi, who earlier this month had seemed to have a firm grip on his stronghold in the western part of Libya, despite months of Nato airstrikes on his military. Rebels had been unable to make any advances for weeks, bogged down on the main fronts with regime troops in the east and center of the country. 

Grimly-fascinating leader

Gaddafi is the Arab world's longest-ruling, most erratic, most grimly fascinating leader – presiding for 42 years over this North African desert nation with vast oil reserves and just 6 million people. For years, he was an international pariah blamed for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. After years of denial, Gaddafi's Libya acknowledged responsibility, agreed to pay up to $10 million to relatives of each victim, and the Libyan rule declared he would dismantle his weapons of mass destruction program.

That eased him back into the international community.

But on February 22, days after the uprising against him began, Gaddafi gave a televised speech vowing to hunt down protesters "inch by inch, room by room, home by home, alleyway by alleyway." The speech caused a furor that helped fuel the armed rebellion against him and it has been since mocked in songs and spoofs across the Arab world.

As the rebel force advanced on Tripoli on Sunday, taking town after town, thousands of jubilant civilians rushed out of their homes to cheer the long convoys of pickup trucks packed with fighters shooting in the air. One man grabbed a rebel flag that had been draped over the hood of a slow-moving car and kissed it, overcome with emotion.

Akram Ammar, 26, fled his hometown of Tripoli in March and on Sunday was among the rebel fighters pouring back in.

"It is a happiness you can't describe but also some fear. It will take us time to clear the entire city. I expect a long time for Libyans to get used to the new system and the new democracy," he said, dressed in camouflage pants and black shirt. "But in the end it will be better."

The rebels' leadership council, based in the eastern city of Benghazi, sent out mobile text messages to Tripoli residents, proclaiming, "Long live Free Libya" and urging them to protect public property. Internet service returned to the capital for the first time in six months. 

First breakthrough

The day's first breakthrough came when hundreds of rebels fought their way into a major symbol of the Gaddafi regime - the base of the elite 32nd Brigade commanded by Gaddafi's son, Khamis. Fighters said they met little resistance. They were 16 miles from the big prize, Tripoli.

Hundreds of rebels cheered wildly and danced as they took over the compound filled with eucalyptus trees, raising their tricolor from the front gate and tearing down a large billboard of Gaddafi. From a huge warehouse, they loaded their trucks with hundreds of crates of rockets, artillery shells and large-caliber ammunition.

One group started up a tank, drove it out of the gate, crushing the median of the main highway and driving off toward Tripoli.

The rebels also freed more than 300 prisoners from a regime lockup, most of them arrested during the heavy crackdown on the uprising in towns west of Tripoli.

The fighters and the prisoners - many looking weak and dazed and showing scars and bruises from beatings - embraced and wept with joy.

"We were sitting in our cells when all of a sudden we heard lots of gunfire and people yelling 'God is great.' We didn't know what was happening, and then we saw rebels running in and saying 'We're on your side.' And they let us out," said 23-year-old Majid Al Hodeiri. He said he was captured four months ago by Gaddafi's forces crushing the uprising in his home city of Zawiya. He said he was beaten and tortured while under detention. 

Gaddafi sons arrested

From the military base, the convoy sped toward the capital. Mahmoud Al Ghwei, 20 and unarmed, said he had just came along with a friend for the ride. "It's a great feeling. For all these years, we wanted freedom and Gaddafi kept it from us. Now we're going to get rid of Gaddafi and get our freedom," he said.

Rebel fighters who spoke to relatives in Tripoli by phone said hundreds rushed into the streets in anti-regime protests in several neighborhoods on Sunday. "We received weapons by sea from Benghazi. They sent us weapons in boats," said Ebrahim Turki, a rebel in the Tripoli neighborhood of Tajoura, which saw heavy fighting the past two days. "Without their weapons, we would not have been able to stand in the face of the mighty power of Gaddafi forces."

Thousands celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, the rebels' de facto capital hundreds of miles to the east. Firing guns into the air and shooting fireworks, they cheered and waved the rebel tricolor flags, dancing and singing in the city's main square.

When rebels moved in, the regime unit guarding the capital, known as the Mohammad Megrayef battalion, surrendered and its commander ordered its troops to put down their arms. Al Baja, the rebel official, said that the commander, Barani Eshkal, had secretly defected earlier to the rebels, embittered by the 1986 execution of his brother, who had joined a coup attempt against Gaddafi.

Eshkal also pointed out to the rebels the hiding place of Gaddafi's son Saif Al Islam in a hotel, Al Baja said. Rebel chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil in Benghazi confirmed to the AP that the rebels captured Saif but refused to give details.

In the Netherlands, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said his office would talk to the rebels on Monday about Saif Al Islam's transfer for trial. "It is time for justice, not revenge," Moreno-Ocampo told the AP.

Saif Al Islam, his father and Libya's intelligence chief were indicted earlier this year for allegedly ordering, planning and participating in illegal attacks on civilians in the early days of the violent crackdown on anti-regime protesters.

Another son, Mohammad, was under house arrest. Mohammad, who is in charge of Libyan telecommunications, appeared on the Arabic satellite channel Al Jazeera, saying his house was surrounded by armed rebels. "They have guaranteed my safety. I have always wanted good for all Libyans and was always on the side of God," he said. Close to the end of the interview, there was the sound of heavy gunfire and Mohammad said rebels had entered his house before the phone line cut off.

Watch this space for live updates 

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