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Libya Rebels Overtake Tripoli As Gaddafi Regime Crumbles

AP/The Huffington Post   First Posted: 08/22/11 02:12 AM ET Updated: 10/21/11 06:12 AM ET

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Euphoric Libyan rebels took control of most of Tripoli in a lightning advance Sunday, celebrating the victory in Green Square, the symbolic heart of Moammar Gadhafi's regime. Gadhafi'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 Gadhafi's bitter pleas for Libyans to defend his regime. Opposition fighters captured his son and one-time heir apparent, Seif 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.

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

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-Gadhafi residents inside Tripoli, rebel leaders said. Rebel fighters from the west swept over 20 miles (30 kilometers) 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 Gadhafi with guarding the capital promptly surrendered. The reason: Its commander, whose brother had been executed by Gadhafi 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.

President Barack Obama said Libya is "slipping from the grasp of a tyrant" and urged Gadhafi to relinquish power to prevent more bloodshed.

"The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people," Obama said in a statement from Martha's Vineyard, where he's vacationing. He promised to work closely with rebels.

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-Gadhafi rallies organized by the regime almost every night, and Gadhafi 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-Gadhafi fighters remained. In one area, AP reporters with the rebels were stopped and told to take a different route because of regime snipers nearby.

Abdel-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 (Gadhafi) oppressed everything in the country - health and education. Now we can build a better Libya."

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 el-Gamaty, a London-based rebel spokesman.

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

It was a stunning reversal for Gadhafi, 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.

Gadhafi 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, Gadhafi'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, Gadhafi 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 and sporting the long beard of a conservative Muslim. "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.

The day's first breakthrough came when hundreds of rebels fought their way into a major symbol of the Gadhafi regime - the base of the elite 32nd Brigade commanded by Gadhafi'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 Gadhafi. 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 Gadhafi's forces crushing the uprising in his home city of Zawiya. He said he was beaten and tortured while under detention.

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 Gadhafi kept it from us. Now we're going to get rid of Gadhafi and get our freedom," he said.

The uprising against Gadhafi broke out in mid-February, and anti-regime protests quickly spread. A brutal regime crackdown quickly transformed the protests into an armed rebellion. Rebels seized Libya's east, setting up an internationally recognized transitional government there, and two pockets in the west, the port city of Misrata and the Nafusa mountain range.

Gadhafi clung to the remaining territory, and for months neither side had been able to break the other.

In early August, however, rebels launched an offensive from the Nafusa Mountains, intending to open a new, western front to break the deadlock. They fought their way down to the Mediterranean coastal plain, backed by NATO airstrikes, and captured the strategic city of Zawiya.

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 Ibrahim 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 Gadhafi 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 Mohammed 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 Gadhafi.

Eshkal also pointed out to the rebels the hiding place of Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam in a hotel, al-Baja said. Rebel chief Mustafa Abdel-Jalil in Benghazi confirmed to the AP that the rebels captured Seif 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 Seif al-Islam's transfer for trial. "It is time for justice, not revenge," Moreno-Ocampo told the AP.

Seif 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, Mohammed, was under house arrest. Mohammed, 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 Mohammed said rebels had entered his house before the phone line cut off.

___

Hadeel Al-Shalchi in Cairo contributed to this report.

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Al Jazeera has exclusive video of Libyan rebels ambushing Gaddafi loyalists at a checkpoint. According to the news outlet, "this Al Jazeera Exclusive footage gives an inside view of the struggle as the fighters push towards Sirte, the last stronghold of Gaddafi."

Video below (via Al Jazeera):

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CNN reports:

Muneer Masoud Own, 33, who made a living doing manual labor, said forces loyal to longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi slaughtered nearly 150 prisoners as rebels closed in on Tripoli last week.

Charred bodies littered the ground around a warehouse -- roughly 30 feet by 45 feet -- where the detainees were kept. A volunteer who helped remove them, Bashir Own, estimated that he had seen about 150 bodies. He is not related to Muneer Own, who said he barely escaped an ordeal that started about a month ago.

Full story here.

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Dozens of Libyans perform the last late afternoon prayer of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at Freedom Square in the eastern Libyan port city of Benghazi on August 29, 2011.

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Libya rebels claim to have "almost certain information" that Gaddafi's intelligence chief was killed.

@ Reuters : FLASH: Libya rebels have "almost certain information" that Gaddafi intelligence chief killed on Sat. -Spokesman tells al-Arabiya TV

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Al Jazeera's James Bays filed a dazzling report from Libya on the situation of African migrants in the embattled country. Migrants claim to be assaulted and are locked up in prisons until rebel fighters made sure they did not work as mercenaries for the Gaddafi regime.

Watch Bays' report here:

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The rebel commander in Tripoli Al Mahdi Al Haraqi told Reuters that he had confirmation that Khamis Gaddafi has been killed in a clash near Ben Walid.

Reuters writes:

He was taken to a hospital but died of his wounds and was buried in the area, Al-Haragi said, without giving the timing. No independent confirmation of the death was available.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the United States could not yet independently confirm Khamis' death but said similar information was being received in Washington from "reliable sources."

Rebels claimed twice before Khamis Gaddafi was killed.

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Libya's National Transitional Council reacted strongly on the message that relatives of Gaddafi would have arrived in Algeria, Reuters reports.

A spokesperson for the NTC said it considers sheltering members of Gaddafi's family an act of aggression.

"We have promised to provide a just trial to all those criminals and therefore we consider this an act of aggression," spokesman Mahmoud Shamman told Reuters.

"We are warning anybody not to shelter Gaddafi and his sons. We are going after them in any place to find them and arrest them," he said.

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A rebel commander in Tripoli claims Gaddafi's son Khamis has been killed in clashes in southern Libya.

Khamis was claimed killed twice before.

@ Reuters : FLASH: Gaddafi's son Khamis killed in clashes in southern Libya -Rebel commander in Tripoli

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AFP reports Italian energy company ENI reached an agreement with the Libyan National Transitional Council to take up gas supplies to Italy.

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Libyan rebels they seek the extradition of Gaddafi's family members who fled to Algeria.

@ Reuters : FLASH: Libya rebels say will seek extradition of Gaddafi family from Algeria

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Rebel commanders say Khamis Gaddafi, one of Colonel Gaddafi's most feared sons, has been killed in an air strike south of Tripoli.

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Algeria confirms two of Gaddafi's sons, his daughter Aicha and his wife are in the country.

@ Reuters : FLASH: Algeria confirms two of Gaddafi's sons, wife and daughter are in the country - Al-Jazeera TV

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Reuters reports Khamis Gaddafi, the Colonel's infamous ... son, may be next to be places on the ICC's most wanted list. The International Criminal Court earlier approved warrants for Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam.

ICC prosecutor Luis-Moreno Ocampo told Reuters in an interview that "Khamis should also be prosecuted because Khamis was the commander of the brigade that was more active on some of the crimes."

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Official reportedly confirm three of Gaddafi's sons, his daughter and wife have arrived in Algeria.

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From the Associated Press:

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The chairman of the African Union says Libyan rebels may be indiscriminately killing black people in Libya because they have confused innocent migrant workers with mercenaries.

Chairman Jean Ping told reporters Monday that this is one of the reasons the AU is refusing to recognize the National Transitional Council as the country's interim government.

He said "We need clarification because the NTC seems to confuse black people with mercenaries .... They are killing normal workers."

Libya's rebel National Transitional Council appears to have secured Libya's capital after a week of fierce fighting with loyalists to Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

He said there was no doubt the council now controlled the capital city and called on both sides to "stop the killing."

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Libyan rebels captured Gaddafi's personal 'Afriqiyah Airbus' in Tripoli.

Libyan rebels leave Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's 'Afriqiyah One' Airbus A340 plane at Tripoli airport on August 29, 2011.

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The tribe of Abdel Fattah Younes said it will take justice into their own hands if rebel leaders do not identify the commander's killers, Reuters reports. "After Eid, that is the final deadline," Tarek, one of Younes' sons said in an interview with Reuters.

Abdel Fattah Younes was killed on July 28 after he was summoned by rebel leaders for questioning. Libyan authorities identified two people who allegedly carried out the assassination, but head of the NTC Mustafa Abdel Jalil had told reporters on Wednesday the suspected killers would be arrested "when the higher interests of this revolution will not be damaged."

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Al Jazeera reporters in Tripoli said rebels have surrounded Gaddafi's hometown Sirte. The main push in the battle for Sirte is expected to come from the east, the channel reports.

Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid reported from the eastern front near Sirte that rebels are holding off attacks, as they want to give tribal leaders in the city time to negotiations.

Andrew Simons, on the western front near the city, reported small fights between rebels and Gaddafi loyalists.

On Monday, NATO intensified airstrikes on Sirte.

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The rebel flag waving over the Libyan embassy in Moscow.

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A leaked United Nations report proposes elections in Libya within nine months, Al Jazeera reports. The UN would be looking to send a small contingent of 'Blue Barrets' to the country, if requested by the Libyan authorities and authorized by the Security Council.

"If requested by the Libyans and authorized by the Council, the UN could contribute to confidence-building and to the implementation of agreed military tasks, through unarmed UN military observer (UNMOs)," Al Jazeera quotes the document.

Read more on Al Jazeera.

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France reopened its embassy in Libya, a spokesperson for the French foreign ministry said. France had closed the embassy six months ago.

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Libyan rebels asked NATO to keep up pressure on the Gaddafi regime. The Associated Press reports NTC head Mustafa Abdul Jalil told a NATO delegation that former regime supporters who are now in hiding could still cause trouble.

"Gaddafi is still capable is doing something awful in the last moments," Abdul-Jalil said.

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Tyler Hicks, photographer for the New York Times, found what seems to be a photo album from the Gaddafi family.

Watch the album on the NYTimes Lens Blog Website

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Internet has returned in many areas in Tripoli.

@ feb17voices : LPC #Tripoli: Internet has returned in many areas of the city. #Libya

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CNN correspondent in Libya Nic Robertson reports the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Basset al Megrahi, is comatose and nearing death.

Read Robertson's full report on the CNN website.

The National Transitional Council announced earlier it will not extradite the Libyan.

CNN's report contradicts statements made earlier by a cancer specialist, who said Abdel Basset al Megrahi was in good health and could live for years.

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Libya's National Transitional Council will not extradite the Lockerbie bomber

@ Reuters : Minister in National Transitional Council says Libya will not extradite Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi

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An Iranian newspaper wrote on Sunday that foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi claimed Iran "discreetly" provided humanitarian aid to rebels in Libya.

According to AFP the minister told the newspaper that Iran was "in touch with many of the rebel groups in Libya before the fall of (Moamer) Gaddafi, and discreetly dispatched three or four food and medical consignments to Benghazi."

The minister also said the head of the NTC sent a letter to Teheran, thanking Iranian president Ahmedinejad for his help.

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AFP reports Libyan rebels have freed more than 10,000 prisoners since they captured Tripoli. 50,000 prisoners would still be missing.

Ahmed Omar Bani, a spokesperson for the rebels, told reporters during a press conference that between 57,000 and 60,000 people have been arrested over the past months.

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Libyan rebels declined an offer by Muammar Gaddafi to negotiate, saying they do not recognize him and are looking for Gaddafi as a criminal.

On Saturday, a spokesman for Gaddafi had offered the rebels by phone to start talks lead by Gaddafi's son Saadi.

Mahmoud Shamman, the NTC's information minister said in a news conference:

"I would like to state very clearly, we don't recognize them. We are looking at them as criminals. We are going to arrest them very soon .. Talking about negotiations is a daydream for what remains of the dictatorship."

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Al Jazeera English has more on the latest overtures from the Gaddafi camp:

Moussa Ibrahim, the spokesperson for Muammar Gaddafi, has reportedly told the Associated Press news agency that the Libyan leader is ready to negotiate with the rebels to form a transitional government.

Ibrahim called AP headquarters in New York late on Saturday, and told them he was calling from Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and that Gaddafi was still in Libya.

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