Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Gaddafi regime teeters on the brink

Muammar Gaddafi has apparently vanished after rebels claimed to be in control of Tripoli (AP)
Local residents greet advancing Libyan rebel fighters on the outskirts of Tripoli (AP)
Libyan state TV has aired an angry audio message from Muammar Gaddafi, urging families in Tripoli to arm themselves and fight for the capital

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is nowhere to be found as his 42-year rule teeters on the brink of collapse.

Months of Nato airstrikes have left his Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli largely demolished. Most of his security forces fled or surrendered when rebel forces rolled into the capital on Sunday night and took control of most of the city. And three of his sons are under arrest.

A mood of joy mixed with trepidation settled over the capital, with the rebels still fighting pockets of fierce resistance from regime loyalists firing mortars and anti-aircraft guns. Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Rahman, who was in Tripoli, said the "danger is still there" as long as Gaddafi remains on the run.

"The real moment of victory is when Gaddafi is captured," Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the head of the rebel National Transitional Council, told a news conference in the opposition's de facto capital of Benghazi, hundreds of miles east of Tripoli. He said the rebels have no idea where Gaddafi is and whether he is even in Tripoli.

US president Barack Obama said the situation in Libya reached a tipping point in recent days after a five month Nato-led bombing campaign. However, he acknowledged that the situation remained fluid and that elements of the regime remained a threat.

The Obama administration official said US officials and Nato partners had not been in contact with Gaddafi during the siege on Tripoli. However, the official said American and Nato representatives, as well as Libyan rebels, had all been in contact with people around Gaddafi, mostly those looking for a way out.

Nato vowed to keep up its air campaign until all pro-Gaddafi forces surrender or return to their barracks. The alliance's warplanes have hit at least 40 targets in and around Tripoli in the past two days - the highest number on a single geographic location since the bombing started in March, Nato said.

A day after the rebels rode into the city of two million, the situation remained volatile. Even though rebels claimed they were in control of most of Tripoli, they still appeared to be on the defensive, ducking for cover during frequent clashes with regime fighters. Throughout the day, the rebels sent reinforcements to the city from the north, south and southeast, and a rebel field commander said more than 4,000 fighters were part of the final push to bring down the regime.

The Obama administration official said the US believes 90% of the capital is under rebel control, while regime loyalists still control Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte and the southern city of Sabha.

Outside of Tripoli, almost all of eastern and western Libya is now under rebel control. The east of the country from the Egyptian border to Benghazi fell into rebel hands at the beginning of the uprising. In the weeks leading up to the lightning advance on Tripoli on Sunday, the rebels consolidated control of the western Nafusa mountain range near the border with Tunisia. It was from there they staged the run on the capital. Most of the rest of the country was quickly falling into their hands.

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