TRIPOLI - Rebel fighters swept into the heart of Tripoli and crowds took
to the streets to celebrate what they saw as the end of Muammar
Gaddafi's four decades of power, but a government fightback was reported
as dawn broke on Monday.
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Tanks emerged from Gaddafi's stronghold
in the center of the Libyan capital and were shelling the area, Al
Jazeera television reported.
Despite euphoria among rebels and
their backers in Tripoli and elsewhere, a rebel spokesman, identified on
Al Jazeera as Nasser, said government troops still controlled "about 15
to 20 percent of the city".
Earlier, rebels waving opposition
flags and firing into the air drove into Green Square, a symbolic
showcase the government had until recently used for mass demonstrations
in support of the now embattled Gaddafi. Rebels immediately began
calling it Martyrs Square.
Two of Gaddafi's sons were captured by the rebels, but the whereabouts of Gaddafi himself were unknown.
Jawad, 36, who works at a Tripoli nursery, told Reuters: "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."
The rebels made their entrance into the capital driving in convoy through a western neighborhood.
defiant, Gaddafi earlier had made two audio addresses over state
television calling on Libyans to fight off the rebels.
"I am afraid if we don't act, they will burn Tripoli," he said. "There will be no more water, food, electricity or freedom."
resistance to the rebels initially appeared to have largely faded away,
allowing the rebels and their supporters to demonstrate in Green
Libyans kissed the ground in gratitude for what some called a "blessed day".
Green Square youths burned the green flags of the Gaddafi government
and raised the rebel flag. One rebel fighter from the Western mountain
said: "We are so happy -- we made it here without any problems."
Tripoli residents received a text message from the rebel leadership
saying: "God is Great. We congratulate the Libyan people on the fall of
Gaddafi, a colorful and often brutal autocrat
who has ruled Libya for more than 40 years, said he was breaking out
weapons stores to arm the population. His spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim,
predicted a violent reckoning by the rebels.
"A massacre will be
committed inside Tripoli if one side wins now, because the rebels have
come with such hatred, such vendetta ... Even if the leader leaves or
steps down now, there will be a massacre."After six months, Tripoli falls quickly
a six-month civil war, rebels moved quickly into Tripoli, with a
carefully orchestrated uprising launched on Saturday night to coincide
with the advance of rebel troops on three fronts. Fighting broke out
after the call to prayer from the minarets of the mosques.
National Transitional Council Coordinator Adel Dabbechi confirmed that
Gaddafi's younger son Saif Al-Islam had been captured. The International
Criminal Court in The Hague, which wants Saif along with his father on
charges of crimes against humanity, confirmed he had been held and said
he should be handed over for trial.
Gaddafi's eldest son Mohammed Al-Gaddafi had surrendered to rebel
forces, Dabbechi told Reuters. In a television interview, the younger
Gaddafi said gunmen had surrounded his house, but he later told
al-Jazeera in a phone call that he and his family were unharmed.
Only five months ago Gaddafi's forces were set to crush the rebel
stronghold of Benghazi, the leader warning then that there would be "no
mercy, no pity" for his opponents. His forces, he said, would hunt them
down "district to district, street to street, house to house, room to
The United Nations then acted quickly, clearing the way for creation of a
no-fly zone that NATO, with a campaign of bombing, used ultimately to
help drive back Gaddafi's forces.
"It's over. Gaddafi's finished," said Saad Djebbar, former legal adviser to the Libyan government.
In Benghazi in the east, thousands gathered in a city-centre square
waving red, black and green opposition flags and trampling on pictures
of Gaddafi as news filtered through of rebel advances into Tripoli.
Mohammed Derah, a Libyan activist in Tripoli, told Al Jazeera: "This is
another day, a new page in Libya's history. We are witnessing a new dawn
and a new history of freedom. The regime is finished."
"We are living historic moments, moments that we haven't witnessed since
we were born, since we came out of our mothers' wombs," said We'am
Celebratory gunfire and explosions rang out over the city and cars
blaring their horns crowded onto the streets. Overhead, red tracer
bullets darted into a black sky.
"It does look like it is coming to an end," said Anthony Skinner, Middle
East analyst, Maplecroft. "But there are still plenty of questions. The
most important is exactly what Gaddafi does now. Does he flee or can he
"In the slightly longer term, what happens next? We know there have been
some serious divisions between the rebel movement and we don't know yet
if they will be able to form a cohesive front to run the country."
Gaddafi, in his second audio broadcast in 24 hours, dismissed the rebels as rats.
"I am giving the order to open the weapons stockpiles," Gaddafi said. "I
call on all Libyans to join this fight. Those who are afraid, give your
weapons to your mothers or sisters.
"Go out, I am with you until the end. I am in Tripoli. We will ... win."
A Libyan government official told Reuters that 376 people on both sides
of the conflict were killed in fighting overnight on Saturday in
Tripoli, with about 1,000 others wounded.