Libyan Rebels Claim Control of Most of Tripoli as Gadhafi Eludes Capture
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RAY SUAREZ: International leaders began planning today for Libya’s future without Libyan Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, who has held power for 42 years, even as Gadhafi continues to elude capture. They welcomed the rebels’ dramatic advances after six months of fighting.
We begin our coverage with a report from Neil Connery of Independent Television News on the rebels in the capital, Tripoli.
NEIL CONNERY: Their long road to freedom nears its end. For the rebels heading for the heart of Tripoli, this was the day they’d long dreamed of. Thousands stream into the capital as Colonel Gadhafi’s rule collapses.
NEIL CONNERY: The regime they feared and suffered under for so long is no more.
Overnight, the first rebel convoys arrived in Green Square, the symbolic heart of Gadhafi’s Libya now under their control. But amid the jubilation, some of those still loyal to Gadhafi chose to respond in the only way they knew how.
While most of Tripoli may be under rebel control, the fighting is still far from over. The rebels moved quickly to capture Gadhafi’s sons. One, Mohammed, was giving an interview to the Al-Jazeera television channel when they arrived.
MOHAMMED GADHAFI, son of Moammar Gadhafi (through translator): I’m being attacked right now. This is gunfire inside my house. They’re inside my house.
NEIL CONNERY: Another son, Saif al-Islam, who just 24 hours earlier appeared on state television boasting there would be no surrender, was also seized by the rebels.
The rebel strategy was carefully planned. From the air, NATO targeted strikes in the city, including Gadhafi’s military compound of Bab Al Aziziya in the heart of Tripoli. From the ground, rebels move in from the west from Zawiyah, across Mayah, and close in on the western side of the capital. Two hundred rebels arrive by boat from Misrata, landing on the beach to the east of the city.
They fan out on the streets, securing the surrender of the Mitiga air base, the main military airport. Forces continued to push from the east and west to reach within two miles of the city center. And in a final advance in the early hours of this morning, they reach Green Square.
The rebels have wasted little time in their efforts to establish some form of control, setting up checkpoints and flushing out those they believe had fought for the regime. But what of the man who ruled this country for 41 years? There’s still no word on the whereabouts of Moammar Gadhafi.
NEIL CONNERY: As clashes continue this evening in parts of Tripoli, one of the fiercest battles is around Gadhafi’s compound. Tanks were seen emerging from the base earlier, and witnesses say there’s been sustained gunfire there throughout the day.
Nearly 24 hours since their arrival, the rebels say they’re now in control of 80 percent of the Libyan capital. These remain dangerous hours, but the joy of a liberated people has spread across this city and nation, for everything has changed here.
JEFFREY BROWN: Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News has been covering the Libya war since March. She returned to the country last week and entered Tripoli with the rebels yesterday.
Here’s her report from the capital as new fighting broke out today.
LINDSEY HILSUM: He never thought he’d live to see this day. “Praise be to God it’s over,” after 42 years, over.
His grandson may be too young to remember the moment when everything in Libya changed, but he was there.
MAN: Bye-bye, Gadhafi. Bye-bye.
MAN: … Gadhafi. Ciao, Gadhafi.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Today, the streets of Tripoli were full of joy. Freedom songs rang out, as the rebels who fought this revolution celebrated their moment.
MAN: Gadhafi, no! Libya freedom.
LINDSEY HILSUM: But as we move down Gargaresh, one of the main shopping streets…
LINDSEY HILSUM: … it became clear that not all Gadhafi loyalists have given up the fight.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The people say that firing was snipers. They’re still hiding in the buildings. They don’t know exactly where. And that’s why they’re here with their barricades fighting back.
LINDSEY HILSUM: It turned out that these snipers shooting in our direction were in a car down the road. Further on, there was fighting with heavy weapons.
SALAH AL GHADI, Libya: You never know who’s coming in, who’s coming out, because there was loads of mercenaries. We caught about nine or 10…
LINDSEY HILSUM: You caught the mercenaries yourself?
SALAH AL GHADI: No, not myself, not myself, but all the people, all the rebel — it was the rebels, basically, that were — that are within this area.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Local men have erected barricades to protect their neighborhoods, after 48 hours of a planned insurrection that tipped the balance against Colonel Gadhafi with the connivance of some of his military.
How did you get weapons into the city?
MUSTAPHA KRAZA, Libya: Yes, some people, they pay money for — to get it. And most of the others, they have friends in the army and they talk to them. In secret ways, they give it to them. So, many people even in the army, and they are some of them colonels and some of them more than that, and they give to the people those guns.
I expected — I only the one who have a gun in my street. Two days ago, I found maybe 50 people, they have guns. Everybody take his gun out and he come to the street to control the streets, to fight for this country.
LINDSEY HILSUM: And then the fighters from the hills turned up, rebels who’ve been battling west of Tripoli since February.
These are the Shabab, the rebels from the mountains. They have been fighting for six months for this moment, when they bring the revolution to the capital of Libya.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The people of Tripoli greeted them like heroes.
MAN: All of them are my sons. We are free for all Libya. This is my country. This is my house. This is my street. This is my son. All of these people are my sons. All of we are free, are free, are free.
LINDSEY HILSUM: They’re destroying the remnants of Colonel Gadhafi’s rule. They don’t know where he is, but they want no mercy for him.
Who knows what will happen next in Libya. It’s a long and uncertain road to democracy and the rule of law. There’s still fighting in Tripoli and other cities, but today is a day in the history of this country like none other.