Gaddafi flees, HQ ransacked by rebels

A spire atop the Washington National Cathedral shows damage following an earthquake along the eastern United States yesterday. REUTERS/Jason Reed against the Libyan leader’s 42-year rule.   

Gleeful rebels ransacked Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya bastion,  seizing weapons and smashing symbols of a government whose  demise will transform Libya and send a warning to other Arab  autocrats facing popular uprisings.  

Gaddafi said his withdrawal from his headquarters in the  heart of the capital was a tactical move after it had been hit  by 64 NATO air strikes and he vowed “martyrdom” or victory in  his fight against the alliance.  

Libyan rebel fighters celebrate at Green Square, renamed Martyrs Square by rebels, in Tripoli yesterday. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Libyans celebrate the fall of Bab Al-Aziziya in Tripoli, in the streets of Benghazi yesterday. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

He was speaking to a Tripoli radio station and his  whereabouts after leaving the compound remain a mystery.   
As night fell on Tuesday after a day in which rebels overran  Tripoli, meeting little resistance with few casualties, heavy  fighting was reported in a southern desert city, Sabha, that  rebels forecast would be Gaddafi loyalists’ last redoubt.  
 
Forces loyal to Gaddafi were shelling the towns of Zuara and  Ajelat, west of Tripoli, Al-Arabiya television reported.   

In Tripoli itself, Reuters correspondents said there still  appeared to be some hostile fire around the city centre as  darkness descended and looting broke out.   
Omar al-Ghirani, a spokesman for the rebels, said loyalist  forces had fired seven Grad missiles at residential areas of the  capital, causing people to flee their homes in panic.  
 
He told Reuters Gaddafi forces had also fired mortar rounds  in the area of the Tripoli airport.   

The continued shooting suggested the six-month popular  insurgency against Gaddafi, a maverick Arab nationalist who  defied the West and kept an iron hand on his oil-exporting,  country for four decades, had not completely triumphed yet.  
 
A spokesman for Gaddafi said the Libyan leader was ready to  resist the rebels for months, or even years.   

“We will turn Libya into a volcano of lava and fire under  the feet of the invaders and their treacherous agents,” Moussa  Ibrahim said, speaking by telephone to satellite news channels.   

Rebel leaders would not enjoy peace if they carried out  plans to move to Tripoli from their headquarters in the eastern  city of Benghazi, he said.   
But Gaddafi was already history in the eyes of the rebels  and their political leaders planned high-level talks in Qatar on  Wednesday with envoys of the United States, Britain, France,  Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on the way ahead.   

Another meeting was scheduled for Thursday in Istanbul.  
 
“It’s over! Gaddafi is finished!” yelled a fighter over a  din of celebratory gunfire across the Bab al-Aziziya compound,   Gaddafi’s sprawling citadel of power in the Libyan capital.    
    
   KEEP REVOLUTION CLEAN,  REBEL LEADER SAYS  

  Opinion was divided about Gaddafi’s whereabouts. Colonel  Ahmed Bani told Al-Arabiya TV that rebels believed Gaddafi was  probably holed up in one of many hideouts in Tripoli. “It will  take a long time to find him,” he said. 
     

Libyan rebels atop a vehicle celebrate at Bab Al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli yesterday. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

Rebel National Council chief Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who was  until February a loyal minister of Gaddafi, cautioned: “It is  too early to say that the battle of Tripoli is over. That won’t  happen until Gaddafi and his sons are captured.”
  
Mahmoud Jibril, head of the rebel government, promised a  transition toward a democracy for all Libyans. “The whole world  is looking at Libya,” he said, warning against summary justice.  
 
“We must not sully the final page of the revolution.”   

Jibril said they had formed a new body including field  commanders from a variety of local revolutionary groups to  coordinate security. There is a long history of friction among  villages and tribes, Arabs and ethnic Berbers, and between the  east and west of a state formed as an Italian colony in 1934.   

Western powers who backed the revolt with air power held off  from pronouncing victory although they are keen for a swift  return to order, given fears that ethnic and tribal divisions  among the insurgents could degenerate into the kind of anarchy  that would thwart hopes of Libya resuming oil exports.   

But the fall of Gaddafi, with the arresting images on Arab  satellite TV of rebels stomping through his inner sanctum and  laying waste to the props of his long unaccountable domination,  could be a shot in the arm for other revolts in the Arab world.   

It could underline that entrenched authoritarian leaders are  no longer invincible, particularly in Syria where popular unrest  has widened despite ever fiercer military crackdowns by  President Bashar al-Assad.     

TRASHING GADDAFI
   
At the Bab al-Aziziya, long a no-go area, armed men broke up  a gilded statue of Gaddafi, kicking its face. Others ripped up  his portrait or climbed on a monument depicting a clenched fist,  which Gaddafi erected after a U.S. air strike in 1986.  
 
Another rebel sported a heavily braided, peaked military cap  of a kind favoured by the colonel, who seized power in 1969. He  said he had taken the hat from Gaddafi’s bedroom.
   
“House to house! Room to room!” chanted some men at Bab  al-Aziziya, calling for a search of its bunkers and tunnels in a  mocking echo of the words Gaddafi used six months ago when he  vowed to crush the early stirrings of the Arab Spring revolt.
  
Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a rebel commander, said he did not know  where Gaddafi or his sons were. “They ran like rats.”   

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “We’re in the  death throes of this regime … But it’s still a very difficult  and dangerous time. It’s not over yet.”  
 
On Tuesday night, youths danced in Tripoli’s Green Square,  another Gaddafi showpiece arena. They waved the red, green and  black flag of the rebels to the sound of gunfire, though most of  the city’s 2 million people prudently stayed indoors.   

One man greeted the fall of a third autocrat in the Arab  Spring and forecast others would share their fate: “1. Tunisia  2. Egypt 3. Libya ? Syria ? Yemen,” his sign read.  
 
Rebel officials, who said they hoped to move from Benghazi  in the east to the capital this week, spoke of trying Gaddafi in  Libya rather than sending him to The Hague, where he and two  others have been indicted by the International Criminal Court.   

The Russian head of the International Chess Federation, who  had visited Tripoli in June, told Reuters Gaddafi called him yesterday to say he would stay in Tripoli and “fight to the end”.
  
But he had few places to make a stand. His home town of  Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast between Tripoli and rebel  Benghazi, was expected to welcome rebel forces shortly,  Abdel-Jalil said. But Jibril spoke of a need still to “liberate”  southern desert areas such as Sabha and of fighting there.   
“It really looks like it’s pretty much over,” said David  Hartwell, a Middle East analyst at IHS Jane’s in London.

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