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Libyan rebels pour into Tripoli; Gadhafi's sons held

Obama says regime 'showing signs of collapsing,' but Gadhafi remains defiant

A Libyan rebel celebrates inside the captured military base, 'Kilometre 27', base to soldiers loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, 16 kilometers west of the centre of Tripoli, on August 21, 2011, as the rebels said victory in Tripoli was imminent and urged NATOto join the final battle with Apache assault helicopters. - Getty Images
(August 22, Tripoli, Sri Lanka Guardian) Libyan rebels waved flags and shot into the air in celebration Monday morning after driving into Tripoli's vast Green Square, taking control of the symbolic heart of the 42-year regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

President Barack Obama said in a statement late Sunday from vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., that "Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant" and that Gadhafi's regime "is showing signs of collapsing."

"The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people," the president said.

Gadhafi delivered a series of defiant audio messages on state television Sunday evening. He acknowledged that the opposition forces were moving into Tripoli and warned that the city would be turned into another Baghdad.

"The traitors are paving the way for the occupation forces to be deployed in Tripoli," he said, calling on his supporters to march in the streets of the capital and "purify it" from "the rats."

Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language service reported that officers who had defected to the rebels found Gadhafi near Tajoraa Hospital east of Tripoli overnight. Gadhafi resisted, and two of the officers who tried to arrest him were killed, said the news agency, quoting a military source.

NBC News was not able to immediately confirm the report, and Gadhafi's whereabouts were unclear Monday morning. But other top officials were reported to be fleeing, led by Prime Minister Al Baghdadi AlMahmoudi, who was spotted Monday morning in Jaraba, Tunisia, Al-Jazeera reported.

As international news agencies broadcast video of huge crowds celebrating in Benghazi, the rebels' eastern headquarters, a U.S. official told NBC News that "the battle for Tripoli is clearly under way, and what has often seemed impossible — the fall of Gadhafi — may now be attainable."

Referring to reports that Gadhafi's sons Seif al-Islam, his onetime heir apparent, and Mohammed had been arrested and were in rebel custody, the U.S. official said, "We could be watching the game changer unfolding."

"Whether or not Gadhafi reads the tea leaves the same way is the big question," the official said.

Associated Press reporters with the rebels said they moved easily from the western outskirts into the regime's stronghold in a dramatic turning of the tide in the six-month civil war.

P.J. Crowley, former chief spokesman for the State Department, said in an interview with msnbc TV that the swift takeover of the capital was "simply remarkable."

Crowley cautioned that the world community would need to act just as swiftly to ensure stability. The National Transitional Council, a committee formed in March by anti-Gadhafi forces, has been "preparing for this day," but it would have been surprised by the overnight takeover, he said.

"They will have to move swiftly," Crowley said, asking: "What will happen to their security services? ... What kind of justice system will we have?"

Rapid progress for rebels

Earlier in the day, the rebels overran a major military base defending the capital, carted away truckloads of weapons and raced to Tripoli with virtually no resistance.

The rebels' surprising and speedy leap forward, after six months of largely deadlocked civil war, was packed into just a few dramatic hours. By nightfall, they had advanced more than 20 miles to Gadhafi's stronghold.

Along the way, they freed several hundred prisoners from a regime lockup. The fighters and the prisoners — many looking weak and dazed and showing scars and bruises from beatings — embraced and wept with joy.

Thousands of jubilant civilians rushed out of their homes to cheer the long convoys of pickup trucks packed with rebel fighters shooting into the air. Some were hoarse, shouting, "We are coming for you, frizz-head," a mocking nickname for Gadhafi. In villages along the way that fell to the rebels one after another, mosque loudspeakers blared, "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great."

"We are going to sacrifice our lives for freedom," Nabil al-Ghowail, 30, a dentist, said as he held a rifle in the streets of Janzour, a suburb just 6 miles west of Tripoli. Heavy gunfire erupted nearby.

As town after town fell and Gadhafi forces melted away, the mood turned euphoric. Some shouted: "We are getting to Tripoli tonight." Others were shooting into the air, honking horns and yelling "Allahu Akbar."

Once the rebels reached Tripoli, a convoy of more than 10 trucks entered the neighborhood of Ghot Shaal on the western edge of the city and set up checkpoints.

The rebels moved on to the neighborhood of Girgash, about a mile and a half from Green Square. They said they came under fire from a sniper on a rooftop in the neighborhood.

Source: Agencies
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