Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rebels on verge of taking Tripoli; White House declares 'Khadafy's days are numbered'

BY Helen Kennedy

Originally Published:Sunday, August 21st 2011, 11:01 AM
Updated: Sunday, August 21st 2011, 5:12 PM

Rebel fighters jubilate over a burning green Moammar Khadafy regime flag they had just torn down as they celebrate victory on a street in Zawiya.
Rebel fighters jubilate over a burning green Moammar Khadafy regime flag they had just torn down as they celebrate victory on a street in Zawiya

Libya's Moammar Khadafy made his last stand Sunday as victorious rebels streamed into the capital and the Libyan civil war reached a sudden and dramatic climax.

After five months of bloody stalemate between the rebel forces and Khadafy's military, the endgame was unexpectedly abrupt.

The bloodbath that many dreaded never materialized.

Rebel armies marched on Tripoli from the west, south and east Sunday, captured a key military base and began liberating outlying neighborhoods with little opposition to slow them down.

Sky News reported so many rebels and civilians crowded the roads into the city that they caused traffic jams.

The rebels' National Transitional Council said Khadafy's son and right hand man, Saif al Islam, had been captured.

By evening, euphoric rebels had reportedly taken the city's main Green Square. TV pictures showed residents dancing in the streets and fireworks lighting up the sky.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising began in February, hundreds of thousands of people crowded the streets in celebration.

Khadafy vowed to fight to the very end in an audio message in which he urgently begging his supporters to come help defend Tripoli.

"The time is now to fight for your politics, your oil, your land," he proclaimed. "If we don't act, they will burn Tripoli."

He did not show his face and was widely believed to have fled the capital city.

The battalion tasked with his security was reported to have laid down arms.

A vacationing President Obama was briefed on the fast-moving developments.

"We believe that Khadafy's days are numbered, and that the Libyan people deserve a just, democratic and peaceful future," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

On CBS, Obama's 2008 presidential rival cheered the imminent demise of Khadafy, a thorn in America's side since the 1980s.

A captured tank bearing a rebel flag fires on a street in Zawiya. (Anonymous/AP)

"We will be rid of a guy who has the blood of Americans on his hands. We will be rid of a guy who has practised the worst kind of brutalities. And now it's going to be up to us and the Europeans," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

In a remarkable snippet of video, a female news anchor on Libyan state TV brandished a gun and vowed hysterically that she and her station would not be taken alive.

Al Jazeera reported rebels swarmed a jail and released 1,000 political prisoners being held for opposing Khadafy.

Rebels also said they had captured an air force major general and an army lieutenant colonel.

An Associated Press reporter traveling with the rebels said they raised their flag - a tricolor from before the start of Khadafy's regime 41 years ago - and cheered wildly when they captured the base headquartering of the Khamis Brigade, a major symbol of the regime's power.

"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," said Mahmoud al-Ghwei, 20.

The base also provided enormous amounts of new weaponry.

"This is the wealth of the Libyan people that he was using against us," said Ahmed al-Ajdal, 27, who was loading up a truck with ammunition. "Now we will use it against him and any other dictator who goes against the Libyan people."

At the luxury Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, headquarters for many foreign journalists, the staff abruptly abandoned ran off, abandoning the guests as gunfire sounded nearby.

Libya's uprising began in February, after popular protestst ousted the rulers of nearby Tunisia and Egypt. Street demonstration turned to full-scale war as Khadafy marshaled his loyalists and strafed rebels with war planes.

In March, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution allowing the use of force against Libyan forces to protect civilians and NATO began a campaign of targeted air strikes that continues today.

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