Sunday 25 February 2018

Gaddafi Endgame: Libyan rebels overrun Tripoli

Tens of thousands of Libyans celebrate the arrest of Gadaffi's son Saif al-islam and the partial fall of Tripoli to the Libyan rebels. Photo: Getty Images
Rebels celebrate in Tajura, a suburb of Tripoli. Photo: Getty Images

Diana Pilkington

Scenes of jubilation continued in the Libyan capital Tripoli's Green Square today as Colonel's Muammar Gaddafi's 40-year rule appeared to be crumbling.

Opposition fighters captured the dictator's eldest son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and the International Criminal Court said it would contact the rebels to discuss his handover for trial on charges of crimes against humanity.

A spokesman for the rebels said another of Gaddafi's sons, Mohammed, is reported to have been in contact with the rebels and is asking for guarantees for his safety.

Mohammed, who is in charge of Libyan telecommunications, is said to have appeared on the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera, saying his house was surrounded by armed rebels. He later said rebels had entered his house, before the phone line cut off.

Fighters advanced 20 miles from the west with little resistance, overwhelming a military base and then pouring into Tripoli.

Although there were reports that fighting is continuing in some districts, cheering, clapping and celebratory shooting broke out in Green Square, the symbolic heart of the regime, as ecstatic Libyans waved the rebels' tri-colour flag. Others set fire to the green flag of Gaddafi's regime.

Nour Eddin Shatouni, a resident who joined the celebrations, said: "Now we don't call it the Green Square, but we call it Martyrs' Square."

Thousands also celebrated in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, and Libyans in Britain were said to be celebrating in London's Edgware Road.

Gaddafi's whereabouts where unknown, but Libyan information ministry spokesman Moussa Ibrahim insisted earlier that his loyalists would stand and fight, warning that they had nothing to lose.

In a news conference, he said that the rebels would not have been able to make the advances they had without the support of Nato and he accused the alliance of turning the city into a "hellfire", with 1,300 killed in the fighting.

He issued an apparently vain appeal for a ceasefire and insisted that there had to be a role for Gaddafi in the country or his supporters would be "easy prey for the hateful vengeful side".

However his claims of a bloodbath were dismissed by Guma El-Gamaty, the London representative of the rebel National Transitional Council.

"If it hasn't fallen already, it is falling very fast," he said of the regime to Sky News.

"Gaddafi is nowhere to be known, or found, or seen. There will be no people coming out en masse on Gaddafi's side."

US president Barack Obama said Libya is "slipping from the grasp of a tyrant" as the battle between rebels and longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi reached a "tipping point".

In a statement issued from Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, where the president is on holiday, Mr Obama said the surest way for the bloodshed to end is for Gaddafi to relinquish power.

Yesterday, Downing Street said it was clear the "end is near" for the dictator.

"It is clear from the scenes we are witnessing in Tripoli that the end is near for Gaddafi," the No 10 statement said.

"He has committed appalling crimes against the people of Libya and he must go now to avoid any further suffering for his own people."

David Cameron was today chairing a meeting of the National Security Council on Libya (NSC-L) after cutting short his holiday.

The Prime Minister returned to London from Cornwall last night as euphoric Libyan rebels swept into Tripoli.

Libya's ambassador to the United Nations Ibrahim Dabbashi, who switched to the rebel side, said: "This is not the beginning of the end, it is the end."

He told the BBC that Gaddafi could be "replaced" by rebel officials "within a few hours".

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Gaddafi's regime was "clearly crumbling" and that the time to create a new Libya had arrived.

In a statement, he said: "That transition must come peacefully. It must come now. And it must be led and defined by the Libyan people.

"Nato is ready to work with the Libyan people and with the Transitional National Council, which holds a great responsibility."

Gaddafi last night issued a fresh appeal on state television for Libyans to save the capital.

In a series of audio messages, he called on his supporters to march in the streets of the capital and "purify it" from "the rats". He was not shown in the messages.

The near-collapse of the regime will come has a huge relief to Mr Cameron, who combined with French president Nicolas Sarkozy to launch international airstrikes to protect the rebels last March.

But with the Gaddafi regime stubbornly hanging on, the Prime Minister had increasingly seen the wisdom of his strategy questioned.

The challenge now for the allies will be to help secure as peaceful transition as possible to a democratic government.

Britain has insisted that it will not send peacekeeping troops, but has said that it would assist in other ways.

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