Monday, 22 August 2011

Tripoli falls to rebels, crowds celebrate in streets

 Updated at: 0513 PST, Monday, August 22, 2011
Tripoli falls to rebels, crowds celebrate in streets
 

AL-MAYA/TRIPOLI: Rebel fighters streamed into Tripoli as Muammar Gaddafi's forces collapsed and crowds took to the streets to celebrate, tearing down posters of the Libyan leader.

A convoy of rebels entered a western neighbourhood of the city, firing their weapons into the air. Rebels said the whole of the city was under their control except Gaddafi's Bab Al-Aziziya-Jazeera stronghold.

Gaddafi 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."

Gaddafi, a colourful and often brutal autocrat who has ruled Libya for over 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."

NATO, which has backed the rebels with a bombing campaign, said the transition of power in Libya must be peaceful.

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. His eldest son Mohammed Al-Gaddafi had surrendered to rebel forces, he told.

Only five months ago Gaddafi's forces were set to crush the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the leader warning in a television address 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 room."

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 Libyan government.

Al Jazeera television aired images of people celebrating in central Tripoli and tearing down posters of Gaddafi, which had dominated Libyan cities for decades.

In Benghazi in the east, thousands gathered in a city-centre square waving red, black and green opposition flag as news filtered through of rebel advances into Tripoli. (Reuters)

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