Tripoli, Aug 22: Euphoric Libyan rebels took control of most of Tripoli in a lightning advance, celebrating the victory in Green Square, the symbolic heart of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Gaddafi’s defenders quickly melted away as his 42-year rule crumbled, but the leader’s whereabouts were unknown and pockets of resistance remained.
State TV broadcast Gaddafi’s bitter pleas for Libyans to defend his regime. Opposition fighters captured his son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, who along with his father faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. Another son was under house arrest.
“It’s over, frizz-head,” chanted hundreds of jubilant men and women massed in Green Square, using a mocking nickname of the curly-haired Gaddafi. The revelers fired shots in the air, clapped and waved the rebels’ tricolor flag. Some set fire to the green flag of Gaddafi’s regime and shot holes in a poster with the leader’s image.
The startling rebel breakthrough, after a long deadlock in Libya’s 6-month-old civil war, was the culmination of a closely coordinated plan by rebels, NATO and anti-Gaddafi residents inside Tripoli, rebel leaders said.
Rebel fighters from the west swept over 20 miles over a matter of hours yesterday, taking town after town and overwhelming a major military base as residents poured out to cheer them. At the same time, Tripoli residents secretly armed by rebels rose up.
When rebels reached the gates of Tripoli, the special battalion entrusted by Gaddafi with guarding the capital promptly surrendered. The reason: Its commander, whose brother had been executed by Gaddafi years ago, was secretly loyal to the rebellion, a senior rebel official Fathi al-Baja told The media.