A Libyan rebel celebrates inside the captured military base, "Kilometre 27", base to soldiers loyal to Kadhafi
A Libyan rebel celebrates inside the captured military base, "Kilometre 27", base to soldiers loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, 16 kilometers west of the centre of Tripoli. The US State Department said that the "offensive for Tripoli is underway" as rebel lines advanced on the Libyan capital and US officials were in "close communication" with the rebel alliance. © Filippo Monteforte - AFP
A Libyan rebel celebrates inside the captured military base,
AFP
Last updated: August 22, 2011

World revels in imminent Kadhafi demise

US President Barack Obama led reaction to the rebel takeover of Tripoli, urging Moamer Kadhafi to admit defeat, as Libyans around the world on Monday celebrated the imminent end of the 42-year-old regime.

World leaders hailed the rebel push on the Libyan capital as the end-game in the six-month uprising against Kadhafi, urging him to surrender to avoid further bloodshed and face justice.

"Tonight, the momentum against the Kadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant," Obama said in a statement issued as he took a vacation on the resort of Martha's Vineyard.

"The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator."

The Western-backed rebels, whose grip around Tripoli tightened over the past two weeks before launching a final offensive on Sunday, said they were still encountering a few pockets of resistance.

The Libyan leader's son, Seif al-Islam, was captured but Kadhafi himself, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1969, has vowed not to relinquish power and fight to the death.

"Kadhafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all," Obama said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his holiday to attend a meeting on Libya while French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who spearheaded foreign support for the rebels, urged Kadhafi to surrender.

He called on him "to immediately order those of his forces that are still loyal... to put down their arms, to return to their barracks and make themselves available to the legitimate Libyan authorities."

NATO, whose aerial bombing played a key role in weakening Kadhafi's military infrastructure, urged the leader to step aside and give his country a chance to rebuild.

"The Kadhafi regime is clearly crumbling," Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the head of the Atlantic alliance, said.

It is "time to create a new Libya -- a state based on freedom, not fear; democracy, not dictatorship; the will of the many, not the whims of a few," he said in a statement.

Rumour had intensified in recent days that Kadhafi was preparing to flee and emulate his former neighbour Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who flew out of Tunisia under street pressure in January.

But Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said it was too late for Kadhafi to be cutting deals and insisted the beleaguered leader should face the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"The offers of exile were made in increasingly explicit ways numerous times. The deadline by now has passed, the only path left is that of justice -- the justice of the ICC," he said.

A Libyan government spokesman said hundreds had died in the rebel push -- which was backed by NATO bombing -- and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was a lone voice of foreign support for the crumbling regime.

"Today we are seeing images of the democratic governments of Europe, along with the supposedly democratic government of the United States destroying Tripoli with their bombs," said Chavez, an old and staunch Kadhafi ally.

China was more measured than Western powers in its reaction to Kadhafi's demise and promised to cooperate with whatever government would take over.

"China respects the Libyan people's choice and hopes Libya will return to stability soon and the people will lead a normal life," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement.

With Tripoli still not under the full control of the rebel National Transitional Council, thousands of Libyans in their home towns and in the diaspora could not contain their joy.

In the city of Benghazi, the western rebel stronghold, tens of thousands poured into the streets overnight to witness the final hours of a four-decade-old regime.

While some solemnly but joyously shouted Allahu Akbar (God is greatest), others opted for insulting the flamboyant 69-year-old army colonel, who at times sported a sort of Afro-style hairdo, shouting "no more curly hair."

In Washington, more than 100 people gathered in front of the White House, chanting: "USA, USA -- Kadhafi has gone today" or "Kadhafi left Tripoli, Libya is free".

In Turkey, Libyan opposition supporters lowered the Libyan flag at the embassy and flew the rebellion's colours.

Russia refrained from reacting to Kadhafi's apparently imminent fall and simply said it was "carefully monitoring the situation in Tripoli."

South Africa, which persistent rumours have singled out as a possible exile for a defeated Kadhafi, called for the rapid establishment of an inclusive government in Libya.

"We wish to urge the interim authorities in Tripoli to immediately institute an all-inclusive inter-Libyan political dialogue aimed at building a truly representative and people-centred dispensation," Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said.

There was no immediate reaction from the African Union, which had initially backed Kadhafi, who founded the pan-African organisation in its current form and financed it generously.

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