Libya rebels push towards capital to aid revolt

AL-MAYA, Libya Sun Aug 21, 2011 11:34pm IST

Libyan rebel trucks with anti-aircraft guns along with other trucks drive to Azizia on the road between Bir Ghanem and Azizia, in this still image taken from video on August 21, 2011. REUTERS/via Reuters TV

Libyan rebel trucks with anti-aircraft guns along with other trucks drive to Azizia on the road between Bir Ghanem and Azizia, in this still image taken from video on August 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/via Reuters TV

Related Topics

Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers ride their camels as they rehearse for the "Beating the Retreat" ceremony in New Delhi January 27, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

"Beating The Retreat" Rehearsals

Rehearsals are on for "Beating the Retreat" ceremony which symbolises retreat after a day on the battlefield, and marks the official end of the Republic Day celebrations.  Slideshow 

AL-MAYA, Libya (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi urged Libyans to take up arms and crush an uprising in Tripoli as rebel troops closed on the capital for a final onslaught on his stronghold.

"I am afraid if we don't act, they will burn Tripoli," he said in an audio address broadcast on state television. "There will be no more water, food, electricity or freedom."

Thousands of rebel fighters 25 km (15 miles) west of Tripoli were moving towards the capital on Sunday evening. As they advanced, they took control of a barracks belonging to the Khamis brigade, an elite security unit commanded by one of Gaddafi's sons, Khamis.

In a coordinated revolt that rebel cells had been secretly preparing for months, shooting started on Saturday night across Tripoli, moments after Muslim clerics, using the loudspeakers on mosque minarets, called people on to the streets.

Gaddafi, in his second audio broadcast in 24 hours, dismissed the rebels as rats.

"I am giving the order to open the weapons stockpiles," Gaddafi said. "I call on all Libyans to join this fight. Those who are afraid, give your weapons to your mothers or sisters.

"Go out, I am with you until the end. I am in Tripoli. We will...win."

The fighting inside Tripoli, combined with rebel advances to the outskirts of the city, appeared to signal the decisive phase in a six month conflict that has become the bloodiest of the "Arab Spring" uprisings and embroiled NATO powers.

"Gaddafi's chances for a safe exit are diminishing by the hour," said Ashour Shamis, a Libyan opposition activist and editor based in Britain.

But Gaddafi's fall, after four decades in power, is far from certain. His security forces did not buckle, and the city is much bigger than anything the mostly amateur anti-Gaddafi fighters, with their scavenged weapons and mismatched uniforms, have ever tackled.

If the Libyan leader is forced from power, there are question marks over whether the opposition can restore stability in this oil exporting country. The rebels' own ranks have been wracked by disputes and rivalry.

REVOLT PREMATURE?

Rebels said after a night of heavy fighting, they controlled a handful of city neighbourhoods. Whether they hold on could depend on the speed with which the other rebels reach Tripoli.

"The rebels may have risen too early in Tripoli and the result could be a lot of messy fighting," said Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya. "The regime may not have collapsed in the city to quite the extent they think it has."

But the rebel advance towards the city was rapid, and there was no sign of fierce resistance from Gaddafi's security forces. In the past 48 hours, the rebels west of Tripoli have advanced about 25 km, halving the distance between them and the capital.

Government forces put up a brief fight at the village of Al-Maya, leaving behind a burned-out tank, and some cars that had been torched. "I am very happy," said one resident.

The anti-Gaddafi fighters paused long enough to daub some graffiti on walls in the village. One read "We are here and we are fighting Gaddafi," another, "God is great." They then moved on towards Tripoli.

In Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city where the anti-Gaddafi revolt started and where the rebels have their main stronghold, a senior official said everything was going according to plan.

"Our revolutionaries are controlling several neighbourhoods and others are coming in from outside the city to join their brothers at this time," Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the rebel National Transition Council, told Reuters.

A spokesman for Gaddafi, in a briefing for foreign reporters, underlined the message of defiance.

The armed units defending Tripoli from the rebels "wholeheartedly believe that if this city is captured the blood will run everywhere so they may as well fight to the end," said the spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim.

"We hold Mr Obama, Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy morally responsible for every single unnecessary death that takes place in this country," he said, referring to the leaders of the United States, Britain and France.

SNIPERS ON ROOFTOPS

A diplomatic source in Paris, where the government has closely backed the rebels, said underground rebel cells in the capital had been following detailed plans drawn up months ago and had been waiting for a signal to act.

That signal was "iftar" -- the moment when Muslims observing the holy months of Ramadan break their daily fast. It was at this moment that imams started broadcasting their message from the mosques, residents said.

But the overnight fighting inside the city, while fierce, was not decisive. Rebels said they controlled all or parts of the Tajourah, Fashloom and Souk al-Jumaa neighourhoods, yet there was no city-wide rebellion.

In Tripoli on Sunday, the two sides appeared to be jockeying for control of roof terraces to use as firing positions, possibly in preparation for a new burst of fighting after dark.

A rebel activist in the city said pro-Gaddafi forces had put snipers on the rooftops of buildings around Bab al-Aziziyah, Gaddafi's compound, and on the top of a nearby water tower.

As he spoke, single gunshots could be heard in the background, at intervals of a few seconds.

"Gaddafi's forces are getting reinforcements to comb the capital," said the activist, who spoke by telephone to a Reuters reporter outside Libya.

"Residents are crying, seeking help. One resident was martyred, many were wounded," he said. It was not immediately possible to verify his account independently.

State television flashed up a message on the screen urging residents not to allow rebel gunmen to hide on their rooftops.

"Agents and al Qaeda members are trying to destabilise and sabotage the city. You should prevent them from exploiting your houses and buildings, confront them and cooperate with counter-terrorism units, to capture them," it said.

(Additional reporting by Missy Ryan in Tripoli, Robert Birsel in Benghazi, Libya, William Maclean in London, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

FILED UNDER:
Photo

After wave of QE, onus shifts to leaders to boost economy

DAVOS, Switzerland - Central banks have done their best to rescue the world economy by printing money and politicians must now act fast to enact structural reforms and pro-investment policies to boost growth, central bankers said on Saturday.

Reuters Showcase

ONGC Share Sale

ONGC Share Sale

ONGC share sale scheduled for this fiscal - oil minister  Full Article 

The Apple logo is pictured inside the newly opened Omotesando Apple store at a shopping district in Tokyo June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino/Files

Record Earnings

Apple iPhone sales trample expectations as profit sets global record  Full Article 

'Umrika' At Sundance

'Umrika' At Sundance

From Oscars to Sundance, Sharma and Revolori discuss India's 'Umrika'  Full Article 

Australian Open

Australian Open

Smooth Wawrinka, ill Serena through to Melbourne semis   Full Article 

India's Male Tenor

India's Male Tenor

India's lone male tenor aims to sing opera in local key  Full Article 

Japan Hostages

Japan Hostages

Mother of Japanese captive begs PM to save son held by Islamic State  Full Article 

Tripoli Attack

Tripoli Attack

Frenchman, American among those killed in Tripoli hotel attack - Libyan official.  Full Article 

U.S. Blizzard

U.S. Blizzard

Blizzard hits Boston and New England, spares New York despite forecasts.  Full Article 

Spying Row

Spying Row

Spying program leaked by Snowden is tied to campaign in many countries.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage