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Report from Libya: Gaddafi Regime on Brink of Collapse as Rebels Storm Tripoli

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After a lightning fast advance by opposition fighters who poured into Tripoli with surprising ease, much of the city appears to be under rebel control, although heavy fighting is underway in many areas. Al Jazeera reports that clashes are continuing in the capital, with the rebels facing off with tanks near Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s compound. Three of Gaddafi’s sons have reportedly been taken into rebel custody, and the presidential guard has surrendered. We go to Tripoli for an update from Robin Waudo, an International Red Cross spokesperson, who is part of a small team able to come to their office amid fighting and distribute medical aid for as many as 5,000 people who have reportedly been wounded. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we go to air, reports are still coming in on the status of the capital of Libya. After a lightning advance by rebel fighters who poured into Tripoli with surprising ease, much of the capital appears to be under rebel control, although heavy fighting is under way in many areas. Al Jazeera reports clashes are continuing in Tripoli with the rebels pushing towards Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s compound but facing resistance. Reuters reports forces to Gaddafi in Tripoli have stationed tanks near his compound. Meanwhile, 40 international journalists are now trapped in the Rixos Hotel, according to several media reports.

The whereabouts of the longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi remain unknown. President Obama and other world leaders have called on him to step down. In a statement issued after the rebels arrived in Tripoli, Obama said, quote, “The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Moammar Qadhafi and his regime need to recognize [that] their rule has come to an end. Qadhafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all.” Obama said the U.S. recognizes the Transitional National Council, or TNC, as the legitimate governing authority in Libya.

People around the world were glued to Al Jazeera last night as the network broadcast images from Tripoli, where euphoric residents celebrated in Green Square, the symbolic heart of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, which is now being renamed Martyrs’ Square. This is correspondent Zeina Khodr reporting last night from Martyrs’ Square for Al Jazeera.

ZEINA KHODR: We are in Green Square, the city center of Tripoli. And as you can see behind me, celebrations are taking place. There is a party in the Libyan capital tonight, and the people of Libya are now in charge of their capital. In fact, they’ve already decided that this square will no longer be known as the Green Square, a name that was given by Muammar Gaddafi. It is now called Martyrs’ Square, the original name. There’s a feeling of euphoria here. People are shouting, “We are free! Muammar Gaddafi has gone!” They’re even shooting at his poster. A lot of celebratory gunfire. This city is now in the hands of the opposition. There are still some pockets where Gaddafi forces are, and people here are worried about sleeper cells. But they are confident the capital now belongs to them.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reporting from Green Square, which is being renamed its original name, Martyrs’ Square.

The two eldest sons of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are in rebel custody, but questions remain about the whereabouts of other senior officials and whether the rebels will hand over any prisoners to the International Criminal Court. Gaddafi’s second son, Saif al-Islam, was detained by rebels Sunday night, according to Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council. A spokesman for the International Criminal Court has confirmed the arrest. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam in June on charges of crimes against humanity. The court described him as Libya’s de facto prime minister and accused him of recruiting the foreign mercenaries which reportedly attacked protesters during Libya’s six-month uprising. Muammar Gaddafi’s eldest son Muhammad was also detained by rebels on Sunday night.

Libya’s rebel chief Mahmoud Jibril issued a statement to Libyans in the early hours of Monday asking fighters to treat Gaddafi loyalists with dignity and respect.

MAHMOUD JIBRIL: [translated] Today, there is no difference between cities. Today, there is no difference between Libyans. We will create history all together, as we were all equal in suffering from a dictatorship for 42 years. We need to be equal now in democracy. Today, all Libya’s people are allowed to participate in the building of a future, to build institutions with the aid of a constitution that does not differentiate between a man and a woman, sex or ethnicities. Libya is for everyone and will now be for everyone. Libya has the right to create an example that will be followed in the Arab region.

AMY GOODMAN: Three of Muammar Gaddafi’s sons are reportedly in custody.

To discuss the developments in Libya, we’re joined by a number of guests, but we’re going to go first to Tripoli, to the capital. We want you to listen carefully, because the phone line isn’t great, as you could imagine. Robin Waudo is the International Red Cross spokesperson in Tripoli.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you tell us what has happened over the weekend? Describe what Tripoli, the capital of Libya, looks like and feels like.

ROBIN WAUDO: Thank you very much.

Since Saturday night, there’s been heavy fighting between the armed opposition and government forces within the city. We are living not very far away from the port, just along the road that’s on the coast. And since Saturday night and throughout Sunday, last night, there was heavy fighting, explosions and gunfire between the two forces. Yesterday, it was almost impossible to come to the office because of this, but we had a small team that was able to get through and pick up some things that we needed from the office. Today there is relative calm, though you still hear bursts of gunfire, but it’s much less than what we had on the weekend. And we are able to come to the office and begin to distribute some medical assistance to help health facilities so that they can be able to assist the wounded casualties.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the numbers of wounded? The spokesperson for Muammar Gaddafi said, in the last few days, something like 1,300 people were killed, 5,000 wounded. Are these reports accurate? Do you have any sense of this?

ROBIN WAUDO: At this juncture, it’s difficult to confirm this, because we were only able to begin moving today, so we don’t have a global picture. And with a very small team, our most urgent activity is to be able to deliver medical aid, than to begin doing this kind of assessment. So, the difficulty still remains the fragile security situation, given that the armed opposition is still fighting with the government in various places.

AMY GOODMAN: And reports, as a representative of the International Red Cross, of who is in custody—for example, the three sons of Muammar Gaddafi?

ROBIN WAUDO: We have had reports. Of course, we usually—at the IRC, we visit detained persons, so that we can have them contact their families or so that we can ensure that their conditions of detention are humane. But we are not doing this right now. We are considering maybe something that will do not just for those who have been mentioned, but also for people who may be detained in the aftermath of the conflict, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Robin Waudo, we are going to turn now to our guest in Cairo, who has just recently been in Libya. Khaled Mattawa is an acclaimed Libyan poet and scholar, associate professor at the University of Michigan, returned to Cairo last week after weeks in Libya. Your response to what has taken place, Professor Mattawa? In this last hours, in the last weekend, the surprise ease with which the rebels came into Tripoli yesterday, on Sunday?

KHALED MATTAWA: It’s astounding, absolutely astounding, the speed at which events turned. It was reminiscent of the period in the middle of March when Gaddafi was about to roll into Benghazi, and it seemed he got a taste of his own medicine, in a way, of seeing his regime collapse very quickly. It was very difficult to keep up with the news—within 10 days, coming down from the mountain, Zawiyah returning to revolution hands, Zlitan also falling to the revolutionaries, mostly, very quickly. Gaddafi yesterday was making his speeches, and he was rattling off the names of tribes that he thought had belonged to him. I think he absolutely lost count and lost sense of who was with him. And it just fell apart last night, and Tripoli is in the hands of the revolutionaries. And it’s astounding and amazing, and not a minute too soon.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what we’re seeing right now: the three sons in custody, the whereabouts of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi unknown, reports of tanks loyal to Gaddafi opening fire on rebel fighters, and yet it seems that the rebel fighters have control of most of the capital?

KHALED MATTAWA: My understanding is that there—the two hot spots are near the Rixos Hotel, where potentially the world media, members of the world media are held sort of hostage, at least kept in by the fighting, and near the Bab al-Azizia compound, which is Colonel Gaddafi’s compound. He may have decided to make a last stand there. I’m not sure. There have been reports of him being near the Algerian border or near Chad. It is not very clear. But clearly there are people still fighting. There might be some snipers around.

I don’t think these people have much of a chance, and I hope some patience will be awarded to them to change their minds, and I hope that they don’t continue to make a mess of things and force, you know, a greater force to be thrust upon them to eliminate them. That would be really shameful. I don’t know what these people are fighting for. I have no idea what they’re fighting for at this point. It had always been confusing to most Libyans why people are fighting for Gaddafi. It might be money. It might be belief. It might be the cult of personality. But now, the reality is at hand, and these people have fought for what they believed for their best interest, and I think if they were to surrender, I imagine that they would be granted safe passage, in the same way that Gaddafi’s sons have been granted that passage.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to break, Robin Waudo, last question about the—what the International Red Cross is prepared for. And in this uprising of the last months, half a year, what are the estimates of people killed and wounded?

ROBIN WAUDO: Wow, that is a very complicated question. It’s difficult to say, because this conflict has been ongoing for the past six months, with at least three fronts that we know of, of the West Mountain, Brega, Misurata. It’s difficult to speculate.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Robin Waudo, International Red Cross, speaking to us from the Libyan capital of Tripoli. We’ll continue with Khaled Mattawa, as well as we’ll be joined by others: Juan Cole, scholar from the University of Michigan, and we’ll also be speaking with Human Rights Watch about what’s been happening on the ground. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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“Libya Has Reignited the Flame of Liberty in the Arab World”: Juan Cole, Khaled Mattawa on Uprising

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