Monday, August 22, 2011

Libya conflict: Fighting rages near Gaddafi compound

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As rebels in Tripoli celebrated on Monday morning, the BBC's Matthew Price said fighting was still taking place
Heavy fighting is taking place in Tripoli around the compound of embattled Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi after rebels seized control of much of the city on Sunday.

Throughout the night, jubilant crowds remained in central Green Square, previously the scene of nightly pro-Gaddafi demonstrations.

Rebels met little resistance as they swept in from east, south and west.
The rebels' leader said he had no idea where Col Gaddafi might be.

"We have no knowledge of Gaddafi being there, or whether he is still in or outside Libya," said Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC).

He told a news conference on Monday afternoon that areas around the colonel's Bab al-Azizia compound in Tripoli were not yet under rebel control.

But Mr Abdul Jalil reiterated earlier claims that the rebels have captured Col Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam.

A rebel spokesman earlier said pro-Gaddafi forces still controlled 15-20% of Tripoli.

He said tanks emerged from Bab al-Azizia early on Monday morning and began firing.
Witnesses say there has been sustained gunfire in the area.

Western leaders have welcomed the rebel advance and urged Col Gaddafi to go.

China has said it will co-operate with whichever government the Libyan people choose.
Video: 'Rebels enter Green Square' Video: 'Rebels enter Green Square' Map: Gaddafi compound
Flags torn down
The BBC's Tripoli correspondent, Rana Jawad, who has been unable to report openly since March, says people in her neighbourhood in eastern Tripoli were woken by the imam at the local mosque singing the national anthem of the pre-Gaddafi monarchy.

At the scene

The pictures of mass celebrations in Green Square overnight give the impression that Tripoli is now in rebel hands. But our experience in Tripoli this morning shows that view is far too optimistic.

Driving in to the centre of Tripoli just after sunrise this morning our convoy was ambushed by Gaddafi loyalists using heavy weapons. We were driving along the seafront close to the Marriott hotel and heading towards Green Square.

Suddenly, about 700m [0.5 miles] ahead, a pick-up truck with a 20mm anti-aircraft cannon on the back pulled out of a side street and started firing directly at the convoy.

Sniper fire came from surrounding buildings. It was a classic ambush. We managed to turn our car and make our escape unscathed. But I have little doubt there were deaths and injuries among the rebels in the convoy.

Tripoli this morning is neither safe nor secure, and several areas remain in the hands of Gaddafi loyalists.

She says there is a sense that the end is near, and that the rebels have achieved what they wanted. 

In Green Square - which is to return to its pre-Gaddafi name of Martyrs' Square - rebel supporters tore down the green flags of the Libyan government and trampled on portraits of Colonel Gaddafi.

"The momentum against the Gaddafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant," said US President Barack Obama in a statement.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said it was clear that "the end is near for Gaddafi".

Mr Cameron said the Libyan leader had "committed appalling crimes against the people of Libya and he must go now to avoid any further suffering for his own people".

The International Criminal Court in The Hague is negotiating the transfer of Saif al-Islam on charges of war crimes. The court is also seeking the arrest of Col Gaddafi and the head of the Libyan intelligence service, Abdullah al-Sanussi.

Another of Col Gaddafi's sons, Muhammad, was speaking on the phone to al-Jazeera TV when he said the rebels were surrounding his home. Gunfire was heard before the line cut off.

TV footage showed Libyans kneeling and kissing the ground in gratitude for what some called a "blessed day".

The NTC announced earlier that it would move its centre of operations to Tripoli from Benghazi, which has been in rebel hands since the early days of the uprising.

Libya uprising timeline

  • 17 Feb: Anti-government protests begin across Libya
  • 24 Feb - 6 Mar: Rebels seize control of several towns and cities but are driven back
  • 17 Mar: UN authorises no-fly zone and "all necessary measures" to protect civilians
  • 19 Mar: First strikes by US, French and British warplanes halt pro-Gaddafi forces
  • 30 Mar: Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa defects
  • 16-25 Apr: Gaddafi forces bombard rebel-held Misrata
  • May-Jul: Stalemate as rebels and government troops engage in skirmishes
  • Mid-Aug: Rebels seize key towns of Zawiya and Gharyan outside Tripoli
  • 21 Aug: Rebels enter Tripoli
France says Mr Abdul Jalil is expected to travel to Paris next week for a meeting of the international "contact group" of countries involved in stabilising Libya. 

'Armed gangs'
A diplomatic source told the AFP news agency that Col Gaddafi could still be in Bab al-Azizia. He has not been seen in public since May, although he has broadcast audio messages from undisclosed locations.

In an audio message broadcast late on Sunday, the Libyan leader urged residents to "save Tripoli" from the rebels.

"How come you allow Tripoli, the capital, to be under occupation once again?" he asked.

"The traitors are paving the way for the occupation forces to be deployed in Tripoli."

Libyan Information Minister Moussa Ibrahim told CNN that the Gaddafi government still had 65,000 loyal soldiers under its command.

However, some forces have surrendered to the rebels, including the special battalion charged with securing Tripoli.

Mr Abdul Jalil said early on Monday: "I warn you, there are still pockets of resistance in and around Tripoli."

He told al-Jazeera television that he would resign if the rebels resorted to vengeance and score-settling.

A Tripoli resident who did not want to be named told the BBC World Service that rebel fighters were "breaking into people's houses, stealing everything".
"This will be a disaster for Libya and Nato," he said.

Mr Ibrahim said fighting in the city since noon (10:00 GMT) on Sunday had left 1,300 people dead and 5,000 wounded. There is no confirmation of the figures.

The Libyan information minister accused Nato of backing "armed gangs" with air power. He added that the Gaddafi government was prepared to negotiate directly with the NTC.
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