TRIPOLI - Jubilant rebel fighters swept into the heart of Tripoli as Muammar Gaddafi's forces collapsed and crowds took to the streets to celebrate what they saw as the rapidly approaching end of his four decades of absolute power.
RELATED:Gunfire spreads through Tripoli as rebels enter capital
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.
Battle outside Libyan capital, fighting spills to Tunisia
US President Barack Obama said Gaddafi's rule was showing signs of collapse and called on him to quit now to avoid further bloodshed.
Laila Jawad, 36, who works at a Tripoli nursery, said: "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. They later said the whole of the city was under their control except Gaddafi's Bab Al-Aziziyah stronghold, according to al-Jazeera Television.
Two of Gaddafi's sons were captured by the rebels, who were also reported to have seized the Libyan state radio building in the capital. Gaddafi's presidential guard units laid down their arms.
Remaining 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."
But resistance to the rebels appeared to have largely faded away,
allowing the rebels and their supporters to demonstrate in Green Square.
Libyans kissed the ground in gratitude for what some called a "blessed day".
Near 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
Many 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."
Obama, on vacation in the island of Martha's Vineyard, said in a
statement: "The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Muammar
Gaddafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an
end. Gaddafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls
Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all."
NATO, which has backed the rebels with a bombing campaign, said the transition of power in Libya must be peaceful.Tripoli falls quickly to rebel advance
After a six-month civil war, the fall of Tripoli came quickly, 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.
Rebel 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, 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.
"It's over!" shouted one man as he dashed out of a building, a mobile
telephone clutched to his ear. 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.
A diplomatic source in Paris, where the government has closely backed
the rebels, said underground rebel cells in the capital had been
following detailed plans drawn up months ago and had been waiting for a
signal to act.
That signal was "iftar" -- the moment when Muslims observing the holy
months of Ramadan break their daily fast. It was at this moment that
imams started broadcasting their message from the mosques, residents