Remnants of forces still loyal to Muammar Gaddafi staged a desperate stand in Tripoli yesterday as rebels fought their way into the capital, but the whereabouts of the veteran leader was a mystery.
World leaders urged Gaddafi, 69, to surrender to prevent more bloodshed and appealed for an orderly transition of power, as the 6-month-old battle for control of the oil-producing North African nation appeared to enter its final stages.
Rebels say they are now in control of most of Tripoli, a sprawling coastal city of 2 million people on the Mediterranean Sea, but it was not clear whether Gaddafi was still in the Libyan capital.
Rebels swept into Tripoli two days ago in tandem with an uprising within the city. Reuters reporters saw firefights and clashes with heavy weapons, including anti-aircraft guns, as rebels tried to flush out snipers and pockets of resistance.
Hundreds seem to have been killed or wounded since Saturday. But Gaddafi tanks and sharpshooters appeared to hold only small areas, mainly around Gaddafi’s heavily fortified Bab al-Aziziyah compound in central Tripoli.
Civilians, who had mobbed the streets Sunday to cheer the end of dictatorship, stayed indoors as machine gun fire and explosions punctuated some of the heaviest fighting of the Arab Spring uprisings that have been reshaping the Middle East.
President Barack Obama, saying the conflict was not over yet, cautioned rebels against exacting revenge for Gaddafi’s brutal rule. “True justice will not come from reprisals and violence,” he said.
Gaddafi forces fire rockets
Libyan government forces fired three Scud-type missiles yesterday from the area of Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown, toward the coastal city of Misrata in central Libya, NATO said.
Initial reports showed the rockets landed most likely at sea or on the shore, and NATO was not aware of any casualties or damage.
“We confirm reports concerning the firing of three surface-to-surface missiles on Monday evening,” a NATO official said.
Libya’s next phase carries risks for US
President Barack Obama was a cautious leader in the drive to topple Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and could face even greater risks as Libya embarks on a messy transition to a post-Gaddafi era.
But the United States — despite deep economic problems and unpopular and costly military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan — may yet find itself saddled with an important role in Libya’s political reconstruction.
As rebel forces surged into Tripoli and Gaddafi became a hunted man, Obama acknowledged the conflict had reached a “tipping point,” but emphasized that what comes next is up to the Libyans.
“This much is clear: the Gaddafi regime is coming to an end, and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people,” Obama said in a statement yesterday. He pledged the United States would work with the rebels and its international allies to support a peaceful transition to democracy.