Libyan rebels took the center of the capital, Tripoli, early Aug. 22 as Moammar Qaddafi’s defenders seemingly melted away. Thousands of jubilant citizens filled the streets to cheer the convoys of pickup trucks packed with rebel fighters shooting in the air. AlJazeera’s correspondent said from the Green Square: “There’s a party in the Libyan capital tonight. The people are in charge of the city. They’ve decided the square is now called Martyr’s Square, the original name. They’re shouting ‘we’re free’ and shooting at a poster of Qaddafi.” Rebel leaders said that two of Qaddafi’s sons have been arrested. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, confirmed that Seif al-Islam Qaddafi has been detained and said the ICC would contact the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) about his transfer to the Hague. (AlJazeera, Aug. 22)
The rapid rebel advance on the capital included a naval assault dubbed “Operation Mermaid,” and was aided by NATO surveillance and intelligence as well as air cover. NTC forces advancing from Misrata to the east also coordinated with local rebel forces in western Libya (mostly Berbers from the Nafusa Mountains), who appear not to be under NTC command.
Qaddafi was last heard from the previous day when he aired a message urging supporters to “march by the millions” to liberate cities held by “traitors and rats.” In the televised statement, he said of the rebels, “They are dirty. They are defiling the mosques… We have to put an end to this masquerade.” TNC advisor Mohamad al-Akari said rebel fighters were hunting down Qaddafi. “Tonight it’s over,” Akari said. (Middle East Online, NYT, ABC News, Aug. 21)
The euphoria in Tripoli contrasted the gloom in Caracas, where Hugo Chávez, back in Venezuela after cancer treatment in Cuba, said in a televised speech: “Let’s pray to God for the Libyan people. Today they dropped I don’t know how many bombs, and they’re falling in a shameless and open way… on schools, hospitals, homes, work places, factories, farm fields at this very moment. They’re practically demolishing Tripoli with their bombs.” He accused the NATO powers of inventing an “excuse to intervene and seize a country and its riches.”
Chávez, who has been a staunch defender of Qaddafi, did not say whether he had been in contact with the besieged Libyan leader in recent days. He also did not refer directly to the rebels who have apparently taken the capital. (AP, Aug. 21)
See our last post on Libya.