Libyan Rebels Attack Tripoli

Posted August 21st, 2011 at 3:45 am (UTC-5)
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Explosions and gunfire rocked Tripoli overnight, as opponents of Moammar Gadhafi launched what they hope is their final push in the six-month-long rebellion to topple the long-time Libyan leader.

In a live audio message carried on state television, Mr. Gadhafi urged his supporters Sunday to “march by the millions” and quash the uprising. He dismissed the rebellion as an ill-fated attempt by “traitors” and “rats.”

The Libyan leader's son Seif al-Islam said in a speech that also aired Sunday that the Gadhafi government would not “abandon the fight.”

Government spokesman Mousssa Ibrahim has denied the regime is on the brink of collapse.

The reports of fighting in Tripoli came hours after the rebels reportedly seized control of two strategic towns — Zawiya in the west and Brega in the east.

In Zawiya, the rebels said they were now occupying positions formerly held by pro-Gadhafi forces, who continued shelling the city from the east.

A senior rebel commander said Saturday his fighters were also in full control of the eastern town of Brega after seizing its industrial sector, which also contains a major oil refinery. However, the claim could not be verified independently.

Mr. Gadhafi has seen the areas under his control shrink significantly in recent weeks as rebels advance on Tripoli from the west, east and south after six months of fighting to end his four-decade autocratic rule.

NATO warplanes have been supporting the rebels by bombing pro-Gadhafi forces to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military action to protect Libyan civilians from government attacks.

Meanwhile, two more Gadhafi aides appear to have defected to the rebel side. Tunisian officials said the Libyan leader's former number-two, Abdel-Salam Jalloud, departed from the Tunisian island of Djerba on a flight to Italy Saturday. A day earlier, Libyan rebels said Jalloud, a former prime minister, had joined their ranks.

Tunisian officials also said Libyan Oil Minister Omran Abukraa has decided not to return to Libya after a recent mission to Italy.