Rebels claim most of Tripoli

Lightning advance: Libyan rebel fighters fire towards Muammar Qadhafi's forces in Tripoli on Monday. — Photo: AP

Lightning advance: Libyan rebel fighters fire towards Muammar Qadhafi's forces in Tripoli on Monday. — Photo: AP  

Euphoric residents celebrate at the Green Square

Libyan rebels claimed to be in control of most of the Libyan capital on Monday after their lightning advance on Tripoli heralded the fall of Muammar Qadhafi's nearly 42-year regime. Scattered battles erupted, and the mercurial leader's whereabouts remained unknown.

The international community called on Mr. Qadhafi to step down and moved ahead with post-war planning as euphoric residents celebrated at the Green Square, the symbolic heart of the Qadhafi regime. Colleagues warned he wouldn't go easily. Two of his sons were captured late on Sunday. “The real moment of victory is when Qadhafi is captured,” the head of the opposition's National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, said at a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi.

NATO promised to maintain its air campaign until all pro-Qadhafi forces surrender or return to barracks. NATO 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 more than five months ago, the alliance said.

“We came out today to feel a bit of freedom,” Ashraf Halaby, a 30-year-old Tripoli resident, said as he and four of his friends watched several hundred people celebrating at Green Square. “We still don't believe that this is happening.”

Revellers flashed the victory sign and motorists circled the square's central median honking their horns and waving rebel flags.

The rest of the city, a metropolis of some two million people on the Mediterranean coast, was on edge, with most stores shuttered and large areas appeared lifeless, without even a sign of the thousands of rebels now in the city.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Rahman, who was in Tripoli, warned of pockets of resistance and said as long as Qadhafi remained on the run the “danger is still there.”

Mr. Abdel-Jalil, the rebel chief, vowed on Monday to give Mr. Qadhafi a “fair trial with all legal guarantees” when captured.

But Mr. Qadhafi's defiant audio messages raised the possibility of a last-ditch fight over the capital, home to two million people. Mr. Qadhafi, who was not shown, called on supporters to march in the streets of the capital and “purify it” of “the rats.” — AP

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