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Jubilation across Tripoli, Benghazi… as Gadhafi’s regime collapses; his sons arrested.

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Jubliation across Tripoli, Benghazi… as Gadhafi’s regime collapses; his sons arrested.

Special to USAfricaonline.com

Sunday, 21 Aug 2011: Rebel forces entered Tripoli from the west Sunday as Col. Moammar Gadhafi vowed not to abandon the capital in an audio message broadcast on Libyan state TV. 

Gadhafi, who has ruled the North African country for 42 years, said he remained in the city and called on his supporters to come from all regions to defend it. Mevnwhile, a rebel convoy of around 100 vehicles was greeted on its way into the capital by residents and onlookers who fired celebratory gunfire into the air, AFP reported.

“We will not abandon Tripoli to the occupants and their agents. I am with you in this battle,” the Libyan leader said in his address, according to AFP. “We do not surrender and, by God’s grace, we will emerge victorious.”

His message came amid speculation that rebel fighters could, within hours, take control of Tripoli, which has been firmly held by Gadhafi’s security forces since the conflict erupted in February.

Rebels claimed to have cut off supply lines to the capital, overtaking surrounding villages and suburbs, including Maya — where they released dozens of prisoners — and Tajoura.

In a significant boost to rebel momentum, hundreds of anti-regime fighters overran an army barracks at a western entrance to Tripoli, raiding arms and ammunition from the military base, which lies some 16 miles (27 kilometers) from the capital on the road from Zawiya.

Rebels said NATO aircraft bombed the headquarters of the Khamis Brigade, which is commanded by Gadhafi’s son, forcing the elite unit to retreat back toward Tripoli and allowing the rebels to advance on the position, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Explosions had rocked the capital overnight as NATO warplanes flew overhead and clashes raged between forces loyal to Gadhafi and the rebels challenging his long rule.

A Libyan government official said 376 people were killed and over 1,000 injured in Tripoli during six hours of overnight attacks, FOX News Channel reported, and clashes in the capital continued Sunday.

Heavy fighting reportedly broke out near the hotel used by the foreign media in the center of Tripoli late Sunday.

CNN’s Matthew Chance said in a tweet that armed loyalists raised the green Gadhafi flag in the Rixos Hotel lobby and in a separate message reported that international journalists were “grouping together frantically trying to work out safest options as heavy gunfire crackles outside.”

The fighting inside Tripoli, combined with the rebel advance, appeared to signal a decisive moment in Libya’s six-month conflict, causing Western leaders to renew their calls for Gadhafi’s departure while speculating that his downfall was near.

“What we’re seeing tonight is the regime crumbling,” chief NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told AFP. “The sooner Gadhafi realizes there is no way he can win, the better for everyone.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Gadhafi”days are numbered,” and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), respected for his foreign policy views, predicted on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that it was “a matter of hours if not days” until Gadhafi’s defeat.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy also urged the Libyan strongman to give up “immediately what power he has left” as an ultimate rebel victory is “no longer in doubt,” according to AFP. ref:newscore.

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