Fighting Continues as Libyan Rebels Control Most of Capital

Posted August 22nd, 2011 at 6:40 am (UTC-5)
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Libyan rebels pushing for an end to leader Moammar Gadhafi's rule say they control most of the capital, Tripoli, but fighting continued Monday as pockets of resistance remained in the city.

The rebels said clashes broke out after tanks emerged from Mr. Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound and opened fire. Mr. Gadhafi's whereabouts is not known.

The fighting comes after the rebels broke through Tripoli's outer defenses and into the central Green Square where thousands of residents celebrated the opposition. The rebel troops met little resistance as they captured a key military base near the city and moved into the Tripoli from the west.

After the rebels arrived, jubilant Libyans in the symbolic square that the rebels have renamed Martyrs Square 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.

The rebels say they have detained two of Mr. Gadhafi's sons, including his one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam.

International Criminal Court Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Monday he will contact the rebels and urge them to surrender Seif al-Islam to the Hague-based court as soon as possible. Seif al-Islam 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.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders told reporters Mr. Gadhafi's eldest son, Mohammed, had surrendered to rebel forces.

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

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

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.

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 had been killed in Tripoli since midday. The claim cannot be independently confirmed.