Libyan Rebels Enter Central Tripoli, Crowds Celebrate

Posted August 21st, 2011 at 9:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Libyan rebel fighters have pushed into Tripoli's central Green Square after moving past the city's outer defenses and announcing they had detained two of leader Moammar Gadhafi's sons, including his one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam.

Rebel troops approaching from the west met little resistance as they raced through government positions outside the capital. Thousands of Tripoli residents celebrated as opposition fighters entered the symbolic square that they have renamed Martyrs Square, where jubilant Libyans tore down posters of Mr. Gadhafi and stomped on them. Until recently, the government had used the area for mass demonstrations in support of Libya's now embattled leader.

Rebel leaders acknowledged early Monday that pockets of resistance still remain in and around Tripoli. A spokesmen said opposition fighters had surrounded the Bab al-Aziziya compound where they believe Mr. Gadhafi may be holding out, but that they are reluctant to begin an all-out assault.

A rebel spokesman said insurgents sent a group of fighters into the capital by sea from the port of Misrata. He also said the elite presidential guard in charge of protecting Mr. Gadhafi had surrendered, enabling the opposition to seize large parts of the city.

Earlier, the International Criminal Court confirmed that Seif al-Islam is in detention. He is indicted along with his father and Libya's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity for allegedly planning and ordering illegal attacks on civilians in the early days of the violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Sunday that Seif al-Islam should be surrendered to the Hague-based court as soon as possible. Meanwhile, opposition leaders told reporters Mr. Gadhafi's eldest son, Mohammed, had surrendered to rebel forces.

Libyan state television Sunday broadcast a series of defiant audio messages from Mr. Gadhafi. In the latest one, he acknowledged that opposition forces were moving into Tripoli and warned the city would be turned into another Baghdad. The Libyan leader said he would stay in the capital “until the end” to defend the city and called on supporters to help liberate it.

Earlier Sunday, opposition fighters captured a military base near Tripoli run by the government's elite Khamis Brigade, commanded by another of Mr. Gadhafi's sons. Rebel fighters hauled away truckloads of weapons and ammunition from the captured base. Opposition forces also freed several hundred prisoners from a government jail as they marched to the capital.

Huge crowds gathered early Monday on the streets of Benghazi, the capital of rebel-controlled eastern Libya, as reports of the assault on Tripoli grew and expectations mounted that Mr. Gadhafi's hold on power was faltering.

The Libyan leader has seen the areas under his control shrink significantly in recent weeks as rebels advanced 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 under a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military action to protect Libyan civilians from government attacks.

A government spokesman said late Sunday that 1,300 people have been killed in Tripoli since midday. The claim cannot be independently confirmed.