Rebels closed in on Libya's seaside capital by claiming a third key city in 24 hours
A Libyan rebel runs across a street to avoid sniper fire in Zawiya, some 40 kms west of Tripoli. A beleaguered Moamer Kadhafi urged supporters Sunday to "march by the millions" and quash a months-long uprising, as rebel forces advanced on Tripoli and claimed his 42-year rule was on its last legs. © Marc Hofer - AFP
Rebels closed in on Libya's seaside capital by claiming a third key city in 24 hours
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Imed Lamloum, AFP
Last updated: August 21, 2011

Defiant Kadhafi vows victory as rebels advance

A beleaguered Moamer Kadhafi urged supporters Sunday to "march by the millions" and quash a months-long uprising, as rebel forces advanced on Tripoli and claimed his 42-year rule was on its last legs.

The strongman's appeal came as fighting erupted and rebels closed in on Libya's seaside capital by claiming a third key city in 24 hours.

"We have to put an end to this masquerade. You must march by the millions to free the destroyed towns" controlled by rebels he labeled as "traitors" and "rats."

"These scum enter mosques to cry 'God is great.' They are dirty. They are defiling the mosques," Kadhafi said in an audio message carried on state television.

Earlier, a Tripoli resident said cries of "Allahu Akbar" could be heard from mosques in the city's eastern sectors.

Kadhafi accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country is helping lead NATO-coordinated air strikes on the strongman's military assets, of recruiting the rebels as "agents" to steal Libya's vast oil wealth.

"To win the upcoming elections, he wants to be able to say to his people: 'Here, I'm offering you Libyan oil' and this is going to be achieved with the help of traitors.

"But the Libyan people will not allow France to take its oil or leave Libya to the hands of traitors," he said.

As blasts and gunfire rocked Tripoli after the break of the dawn-to-dusk fast of Ramadan and witnesses reported fighting in the eastern neighbourhoods of Soug Jomaa, Arada and Tajura, the government insisted it was in charge of the city.

"The situation is under control," Information Minister Moussa Ibrahim said, adding that pro-regime volunteers had repelled insurgent attacks in several neighbourhoods.

Ibrahim dismissed mounting speculation that the regime was on the brink as a "media attack," but more gunfire was heard after he spoke on television.

In his eastern stronghold of Benghazi, Libyan rebel chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil claimed that victory was within reach, six months after the insurgency was launched.

Celebrations broke out in the early morning hours as residents feted what they claimed was the imminent collapse of Kadhafi's rule.

"We have contacts with people from the inner circle of Kadhafi," said the chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC). "All evidence (shows) that the end is very near, with God's grace."

Abdel Jalil was speaking to reporters as a flurry of rumours suggested that Kadhafi was preparing to flee Libya.

He predicted a "catastrophic" end for Kadhafi and his inner circle, along with turmoil in Tripoli.

Jubilant rebels celebrated their capture of the strategic eastern oil hub of Brega, a day after saying they had seized Zawiyah and Zliten, two other key towns.

However, rebel Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said retreating Kadhafi forces shelled Brega's industrial zone on Saturday and that his men had pulled back to its eastern edge to avoid unnecessary casualties and property damage.

In Sabratah, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Tripoli, rebels rejoiced at their camp's latest advances and waited for a chance to take part in an offensive on the capital.

"I'm dying to go to Tripoli," Mohamed, an 18-year-old fighter from Manchester, said as fighters fired shots in the air and residents stayed to their TV sets, monitoring what they believed were Kadhafi's final hours.

While the rebels' pincer movement on the capital intensified, another sign of the regime's frailty came as fighters said former premier Abdessalam Jalloud, a popular figure who fell out of favour with the Libyan strongman in the mid-1990s, had defected and joined their ranks.

Yet both they and the regime downplayed the significance of his departure, after he reportedly flew to Italy from neighbouring Tunisia with his family.

In Zawiyah, families were fleeing the battle-scarred city in cars and pickups loaded with personal possessions, a day after the rebels claimed it had fallen as they advanced on Tripoli from the west.

Queues of cars hundreds of metres long snaked out of petrol stations after rebels decided to distribute fuel from the nearby refinery for free.

The refinery is the only source of fuel to Tripoli, and any shutdown could leave the capital without critical supplies.

At the start of the main road heading south, rebels set up a checkpoint with a list of names of informants they accused of having helped Kadhafi's fighters in their now-lost battle for the city.

Insurgents also said they seized Zliten from Kadhafi's forces, hours after saying they were in the town's centre, 150 kilometres (93 miles) east of Tripoli.

Rebels have been seeking to sever Tripoli's supply lines from Tunisia to the west and to Kadhafi's home town of Sirte in the east, hoping to cut off the capital, prompt defections and spark an uprising inside Tripoli.

The International Organisation for Migration said it was drawing up plans to evacuate thousands of migrants stranded in Tripoli because exit points have been cut off after a spate of rebel successes.

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