Gaddafi tanks emerge after rebels sweep into Tripoli

SWI swissinfo - 21 August 2011 - From Missy Ryan

TRIPOLI - Libyan government tanks shelled parts of central Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the city and crowds took to the streets to celebrate what they saw as the end of Muammar Gaddafi's four decades in power.

Tanks emerged from Gaddafi's stronghold in the centre of the Libyan capital and were firing shells, a rebel spokesman said. Sporadic gunfire could be heard as world leaders tried to assess how long Gaddafi's forces might hold on and how the fractious rebel alliance might run the oil-rich desert state.

Nouri Echtiwi, a rebel spokesman in Tripoli, told Reuters: "Four hours of calm followed the street celebrations. Then tanks and pick-up trucks with heavy machineguns mounted on the back came out of Bab al-Aziziya, the last of Gaddafi's bastions, and started firing and shelling Assarin Street and al-Khalifa area.

"They fired randomly in all directions whenever they heard gunfire."

Despite euphoria among rebels and their backers in Tripoli and elsewhere, a rebel spokesman, identified on Al Jazeera television only as Nasser, said government troops still controlled "about 15 to 20 percent of the city."

Earlier, rebels waving opposition flags and firing into the air drove into Green Square, a symbolic showcase the government had until recently used for mass demonstrations in support of the now embattled Gaddafi. Rebels immediately began calling it Martyrs Square.

Two of Gaddafi's sons were captured by the rebels, but the whereabouts of Gaddafi himself, one of the world's longest ruling leaders, were unknown.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Gaddafi's rule was showing signs of collapse, six months after dissidents inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt first took to the streets. Obama called on him to quit now to avoid further bloodshed.

Laila Jawad, 36, who works at a Tripoli nursery, told Reuters after the rebels arrived: "We are about to be delivered from the tyrant's rule. It's a new thing for me. I am very optimistic. Praise be to God." (...)