- (Photo: Reuters/Bob Strong)
The "end is near" for Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi as nations, including the U.S., are calling on him to "go now,” even as rebel forces advance with force into Tripoli late Sunday.
Regular television programming is airing the breaking news out of Lybia on Sunday night, at times interrupting regular programming, to show rebels running over Tripoli and meeting little resistance. The chaos in Tripoli comes after a day of fierce gun battles in and around the capital.
Live reports from Libya reveal that the 42-year rule of Gaddafi appeared on the verge of collapse today, with rebel supporters packing the same Tripoli square where regime loyalists had congregated for months, as shown live on CNN.
It is unclear how much of the city is still under government control, but the International Criminal Court has confirmed to the media the capture of Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, on Sunday.
Tripoli has been Gaddafi's stronghold since the Libyan civil war began some six months ago, but it is not clear whether the embattled leader is still there.
Gaddafi is believed to still have thousands of armed followers in the capital although news reports suggest a number of them have surrendered to the rebels.
Live reports from CNN reporters, witnesses and rebel officials, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Sunday that "the Gadhafi regime is clearly crumbling," and urged him to acknowledge defeat.
Television footage showed civilians cheering opposition forces, waving flags and firing celebratory shots as they passed in their pick-ups.
The scene is one of utter confusion as the situation inside Tripoli remained explosive with continued crackling gunfire and explosions. The American public is just now beginning to understand the gravity of the situation in Lybia as live news reports show the amount of political unrest in the country.
One fierce gun battle broke out Sunday evening near the hotel where many international reporters were staying in Tripoli. Many government officials packed their suitcases and left the hotel earlier in the day, according to media reports.
BBC News Correspondent Matthew Price sent a message to his producers late Sunday, giving the U.S. a glimpse of the terror happening in Libya today: “I simply can’t leave this hotel right now…I wish I could.”
The chaotic rebel celebrations are in response to rebel inroads into the capital as the news spread that two of Gaddafi's sons – Saif al-Islam and Saadi – have been arrested by opposition forces.
Jumma Ibrahim, a rebel spokesman based in Libya's western mountain region, told CNN both were captured in Tripoli.
International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the media that Saif would be sought by court "for his participation in crimes against humanity [affecting] the Libyan people."
U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are receiving live updates on the situation, officials said. Obama promised a statement to the media when "we get full confirmation of what is happening."
"Gaddafi's days are numbered," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Sunday. "If Gaddafi cared about the welfare of the Libyan people, he would step down now."
Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told reporters just after 11 p.m. Sunday that some 1,300 people had been killed and about 5,000 wounded in fighting in the previous 12 hours.
"[The city] is being turned into a hellfire," he said.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi called on his people to rise up against "occupation agents."
In a radio speech broadcast Sunday night as rebel fighters were entering the outskirts of Tripoli, Gaddafi called the enemy weak and warned that a half-million or million Libyans would crawl to the lines to take on the rebels and "show our defiance,” according to media reports coming out of Libya Sunday.
A couple hours after the rebels said they had attacked Tripoli, state television ran the live audio message by Gaddafi.
He did not appear on television but sounded like he was calling the message in on a poor phone line which crackled at times. He announced the time and date twice to prove that he was speaking live.
Gaddafi condemned the rebels as traitors and "vermin" who are tearing Libya apart and said they were being chased from city to city – a mirror image of reality. "Libyans wanted to enjoy a peaceful Ramadan," he said. "Instead they have been made into refugees. What are we? Palestinians?"
The following is a translation of some of Gaddafi's remarks:
"O great Libyan people.... the occupation wants to capture Tajoura through its agents ... they are embarked on a desperate attempt to allow their colonial masters set foot in Tripoli.
“Don't allow the occupation to set foot in your country. I am with you in this battle. As I promised you before, we never surrender. We shall be victorious ... because we suffered an injustice ... an aggression against our country ... our safety and our comfort ... we suffered an injustice, and God must makes us victorious in the end.
“Rise up in all your strength. Forwards ... forwards ... Allah Akbar."
Libya, an oil-rich nation in North Africa, spent more than 40 years under the firm leadership of Col. Gaddafi.
But in February 2011, the unrest sweeping through much of the Arab world erupted in several Libyan cities. Though it began with a relatively organized core of anti-government opponents in Benghazi, its spread to the capital of Tripoli was swift and spontaneous, The New York Times reports.
Gaddafi lashed out with a level of violence unseen in the other uprisings, but an inchoate opposition cobbled together the semblance of a transitional government, fielded a makeshift rebel army and portrayed itself to the West and "Libyans as an alternative to Gaddafi's corrupt and repressive rule."
Timeline of the "Anti-Gaddafi" uprising:
2011 February – Arrest of human rights campaigner sparks violent protests in eastern city of Benghazi that rapidly spread to other cities. Authorities use aircraft to attack protesters. Many Libyan diplomats resign in protest. Gaddafi insists that he will not quit, and remains in control of the capital, Tripoli.
2011 March – UN Security Council authorize a no-fly zone over Libya and air strikes to protect civilians, over which NATO assumes command. London conference of world powers, European Union and Arab League calls on Col Gaddafi to quit.
Backed by extensive NATO air raids, Libyan rebels initially capture territory but are then forced back by better-armed pro-Gaddafi forces. Rebels ask West for arms.
Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa flies to Britain in protest at attacks on the rebels. Other senior figures defect in subsequent weeks.
2011 May – International Criminal Court seeks arrest of Gaddafi for crimes against humanity following "widespread and systematic attacks" on civilians.
Aug. 18 – Rebel fighters gained complete control of the oil refinery in Zawiyah, routing government soldiers after days of battle and advancing into other parts of the strategic port city.
Aug. 19 – Rebel soldiers fought running street battles in Zawiyah, just a half-hour’s drive from the Libyan capital of Tripoli, and there were new signs that worried foreigners in Tripoli were urgently trying to leave.
Aug. 20 – Witnesses in Tripoli reported heavy fighting across the capital, even as rebel forces claimed to have encircled the city by taking major towns to its east, west and south.
Aug. 21 – Six months of inconclusive fighting gave way within a matter of days to an assault on Tripoli that unfolded at a breakneck pace. By the night of August 21st, rebels surged into the city, meeting only sporadic resistance and setting off raucous street celebrations by residents hailing the end of his 42 years in power. Huge crowds gathered in Benghazi, the capital of the rebel-controlled eastern part of the country, as expectations grew that Colonel Gaddafi’s hold on power was crumbling.
The rebel leadership announced that insurgents had captured two of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons, including Saif al-Islam, his heir apparent.
(Sources: Interviews, Radio broadcasts, Live reports, CNN, BBC, and The New York Times).