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Rebels Move To Solidify Control Over Tripoli

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
August 24, 2011

Libyan loyalists launched counteroffensives throughout the capital on Wednesday, seemingly taking their cues from leader Moammar Gadhafi, who called on them from hiding to drive the “devils and traitors” from Tripoli.

Clashes erupted in a neighborhood next to Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound a day after the sprawling command-and-control center was overrun by thousands of rebel fighters. Pro-regime fighters attacked with shells and assault rifles in the Abu Salim area, which is home to a notorious prison and thought to be one of the last remaining regime strongholds in Tripoli.

Opposition fighters were claiming that they now control most of the capital. Streets were largely deserted, scattered with debris and broken glass and other remnants of fighting. Rebels manned checkpoints every few hundred yards.

The conquest of Bab al-Aziziya effectively signaled the end of Gadhafi’s regime, even though the Libyan leader himself has yet to be found and the opposition still faces pockets of stiff resistance.

Gadhafi’s foreign minister in Tripoli said the Libyan leader’s grip on power is gone.

Speaking from a home in the Libyan capital, Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi told British broadcaster Channel 4 that it appeared that Gadhafi has exhausted all of his options and that his rule “was over.”

But an ever-defiant Gadhafi vowed in an audio address broadcast Wednesday that he would fight “until victory or martyrdom.” He said he abandoned his compound as a tactical move, and he called on residents of the capital and loyal tribesmen across his North African nation to free Tripoli from the “devils and traitors” who have overrun it.

NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, reporting from Benghazi, said the search for Gadhafi continues but that “it’s very difficult to determine where he is because he has many bunkers.”

“He has many places that he could be hiding, and there are still many parts of the country that are loyal to him,” she said.

The rebels said they had taken control of Libyan state television and raised their tricolor flag on the top of the building. They also claimed to control Tripoli’s airport.

At the nearby Rixos Hotel, foreign journalists who had been held there for days by armed men loyal to Gadhafi were suddenly freed Wednesday. The dozens of journalists were taken in Red Cross cars and vans to another Tripoli hotel, where they hugged friends and colleagues.

“Once I got into the car I couldn’t stop crying,” CNN journalist Jomana Karadsheh said.

In Tripoli’s Green Square, hundreds of rebels celebrated the storming of Bab al-Aziziya, dancing and clapping and waving the red, green and black rebel flag and firing celebratory gunfire in the air.

Elsewhere in the country, tribes loyal to Gadhafi were holding out in his hometown of Sirte.

“The rebel forces in the past day or so claim to have cleared the cities of Brega and Ras Lanouf. These are key cities en route to Sirte,” Sarhaddi Nelson said. “Sirte itself remains in the hands of sheiks and tribal leaders who are loyal to Gadhafi.”

On Wednesday, opposition fighters wandering around the Bab al-Aziziya complex suddenly came under fire. Some of the rebels took cover; others ran but then returned. It’s not clear from where the shooting came, but rebel field commander Mohammed Amin said the last holdouts among regime loyalists have entrenched themselves in areas near the compound.

In Brussels, a NATO official said warplanes continued to strike overnight at pro-Gadhafi forces near Tripoli.

“We did see remnants of the pro-Gadhafi forces moving heavy equipment, and we took action,” the official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The rebels’ provisional government, known as the Transitional National Council, was organizing a hasty conference in Qatar to raise money to help rebuild cities such as Zawiyah and Misrata after fierce battles left them in ruins, riddled with bullet and artillery holes.

And in Tripoli, there was little food, limited electricity and few open hospitals.

Mahmoud Jibril, deputy chairman of the TNC, was en route to France for a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday evening, according to Sarkozy’s office. A statement said talks will focus on “the situation in Libya and the international community’s actions to support the political transition to a free and democratic Libya.”

The U.S. and European Union were also working on a process to free up billions of dollars in frozen Libyan assets to help the rebel government keep the country running.

The U.S. State Department said it could get as much as $1.5 billion into the hands of the TNC once a United Nations sanctions committee clears the way.

Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman was in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi over the weekend and has since begun touring world capitals as he and other diplomats tried to come up with ways to help the rebels.

Feltman told NPR that everyone is relying on the TNC.

“People are taking their lead from the Libyans themselves because the Transitional National Council has made it clear that Libyans are going to be in charge of the post-Gadhafi planning and Libyans are going to be in charge of determining the best path forward,” Feltman said.

“And that’s the way it should be,” he said. “That’s what we have talked about since the beginning of this.”

With reporting from NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Tripoli, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Benghazi and Michele Kelemen in Washington, D.C. Material from The Associated Press was used in this report. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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