Libya rebels launch final assault on Kadhafi
Libyan rebels launched a final assault on Tripoli Sunday to oust Moamer Kadhafi, swiftly seizing swathes of the city and claiming to have captured the strongman's son, Seif al-Islam.
Kadhafi vowed not to surrender, even as NATO said his regime was crumbling and Britain predicted "the end was near" for the 69-year-old leader, who has kept a tight grip on power in his oil-rich North African nation for close on 42 years.
As the rebels bayed for blood and boasted they would take full control of Tripoli during the night, Kadhafi issued his third message of the day, urging the people of Tripoli to "purge the capital."
Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told a press conference that 1,300 people have been killed in the rebel assault on the capital, describing the fighting as a "real tragedy."
He insisted that Libya's regime "is still strong and thousands of volunteers and soldiers are ready to fight."
Rebel leaders said an advance party of fighters had arrived by sea in the capital early Sunday and joined sleeper cells of rebels to launch the final assault, code named "Mermaid."
Another rebel force advanced on the capital from the west, moving in a convoy of around 100 vehicles as onlookers fired celebratory gunfire into the air, an AFP correspondent said.
By afternoon they had overrun the eastern suburb of Tajura and boasted that they would seize control of the capital during the night.
A separate rebel party took over an army barracks at a western entrance to Tripoli, raiding the stores of missiles and other ammunition, AFP correspondents at the scene said.
They also released dozens of prisoners held in Maya, 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Tripoli, they said.
"We will enter Tripoli in a few hours. Between now and tomorrow we expect it to fall in our hands," said rebel commander Abdelhakim Belhaj.
A rebel spokesman said the insurgents were also tightening the noose around loyalist forces in the far west of Libya, near the Tunisian border.
A fierce gunbattle also broke out near the Hotel Rixos, used by the foreign media in the centre of Tripoli, an AFP correspondent said.
Gunmen loyal to Kadhafi opened fire armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles from the Hotel Rixos towards the east, although their target was not visible.
Kadhafi refused to relinquish power.
He vowed not to surrender and boasted he would "emerge victorious" in the battle for Tripoli.
"We will not, we will not abandon Tripoli to the occupants and their agents. I am with you in this battle," he said in an audio message broadcast on television.
"We do not surrender and, by God's grace, we will emerge victorious."
He called on his supporters to "march on Tajura in tens of thousands to purge the officials of the colonisers," in a reference to the NATO-backed rebels.
Earlier, he had earlier aired a message urging supporters to "march by the millions" to liberate cities held by "traitors and rats."
And in a third audio message broadcast on state television late at night, he said the people should "go out now to purge the capital," adding that there was "no place for the agents of colonialism in Tripoli and Libya."
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) told Al-Jazeera television from Benghazi in eastern Libya he had "information that Seif al-Islam has been captured."
"He is being kept in a secure place under close guard until he is handed over to the judiciary," Abdel Jalil said, without saying when or where Kadhafi's son had supposedly been captured.
Before the revolt which erupted in February, Seif al-Islam was increasingly seen as the successor to his father.
He long served as the face of the regime in the West as he appeared in suit and tie and spoke fluent English.
The rebels' initial assault was launched soon after four strong blasts were heard in the capital at around 4:00 am (0200 GMT) on Sunday, and while NATO warplanes flew overhead, an AFP journalist said.
Gunfire crackled intermittently through the morning and more blasts were heard.
The targets were not immediately identifiable but witnesses reported clashes in several districts between insurgents and Kadhafi supporters, especially the eastern suburbs of Soug Jomaa, Arada and Tajura.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said early Monday Kadhafi's 42-year rule in Libya is "clearly crumbling."
"The Kadhafi regime is clearly crumbling. The sooner Kadhafi realises that he cannot win the battle against his own people, the better -- so that the Libyan people can be spared further bloodshed and suffering," he said in a statement.
Libya's defected ex-prime minister Abdessalam Jalloud said he believed it was too late for Kadhafi, his former comrade, to strike a deal to leave power and would likely be killed.
"He has no way of leaving Tripoli. All the roads are blocked. He can only leave with an international agreement and I think that door is closed," said Jalloud, a former regime stalwart who helped Kadhafi seize power in a 1969 coup.
"I think it would be difficult for Kadhafi to give himself up. And he is not like Hitler who had the courage to kill himself ... I don't think the evolution of the situation in Tripoli will allow him to survive," he told Italian news programme TG3.
In Dubai, rebel envoy Aref Ali Nayad said the NTC had urged NATO to join the final battle with Apache assault helicopters.
Striking another blow to Kadhafi's regime, Tunisia, Libya's neighbour to the west, on Sunday decided to recognise the NTC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, the news agency TAP reported.
And a ship chartered by the International Organisation for Migration was to leave for Tripoli from Benghazi during the night to evacuate about 300 foreigners, an IOM official said.
© 2011 AFP