WRAPUP 6-Gunfire in Tripoli as rebels close on Gaddafi
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LIBYA/ (WRAPUP 6, TV, PIX)
WRAPUP 6-Gunfire in Tripoli as rebels close on Gaddafi
* Fighting between Gaddafi forces and "infiltrators"
* Government claims attack in Tripoli crushed
* Rebels say Tripoli fighting is "zero hour"
* Gaddafi scorns rebel "rats"
(Updates with state TV appeal, more details)
By Missy Ryan
TRIPOLI, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Explosions and gunfire rang out
in Tripoli as opponents of Muammar Gaddafi launched an uprising
and rebel forces edged towards the city, declaring a final push
to end his four-decade rule.
Gaddafi said in a message broadcast on state television that
an assault by "rats" -- his description of the rebels -- had
been repelled. A senior rebel official said "zero hour" was
approaching for the Libyan leader.
At daybreak, more than 12 hours after the fighting first
broke out, shooting could still be heard in the capital, though
it was less heavy and sustained.
A Reuters reporter at a hotel in the city centre said she
could hear bursts of machine gun fire about every few minutes,
and occasional booms from heavy weapons.
A rebel activist in Tripoli said pro-Gaddafi forces had
positioned snipers on the rooftops of buildings around Bab
al-Aziziyah, Gaddafi's compound, and on the top of a water
As he spoke, single gunshots could be heard in the
background, at intervals of a few seconds.
"Gaddafi's forces are getting reinforcements to comb
the capital," said the activist, who spoke to a Reuters reporter
"Residents are crying, seeking help. One resident was
martyred, many were wounded," It was not immediately possible
to verify his account independently.
The fighting inside Tripoli, combined with rebel advances
towards the outskirts of the city, appeared to signal the
decisive phase in a six month conflict that has become the
bloodiest of the "Arab Spring" uprisings and embroiled NATO
But Gaddafi's fall is far from certain.
His security forces, facing rebel advances on three fronts,
have not buckled as some rebels had predicted. The uprising
appeared to be isolated to a few neighbourhoods, and had not
spread to the whole city.
State television flashed up a message on the screen
urging residents not to allow rebel gunmen to hide out on their
"Agents and al Qaeda members are trying to destabilise
and sabotage the city. You should prevent them from exploiting
your houses and buildings, confront them and cooperate with
counter-terrorism units, to capture them," it said.
The rebels said the uprising was being coordinated with
anti-Gaddafi fighters outside the city. They were fighting
towards Tripoli from the town of Zawiyah, to the west, and also
along the main highway to the south of the capital.
A straightforward military conquest of Tripoli could be an
enormous task for the poorly armed and trained rebel forces.
Clearly Gaddafi's opponents are hoping for a disintegration of
the leader's forces under pressure from a sustained uprising.
Near the southern front line, rebels were gathering forces
to try to advance on Al-Aziziyah, which is about 45 km (27
miles) south of Tripoli and is the southern gateway to the
At a checkpoint south of Al-Aziziyah, a Reuters reporter saw
rebels bring mortar launchers up to the front. Pick-up trucks
with anti-aircraft guns bolted to the back drove through the
checkpoint heading north.
"Hopefully we'll take Al-Aziziyah today and then march to
Tripoli," said Mohammed, among a group of rebels waiting for the
order to move forward.
In the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, the rebels'
main stronghold, a rebel official said fighters were being
transported from the city by sea to Zawiyah, which has a port,
to reinforce their colleagues advancing on Tripoli.
In an audio recording broadcast soon after midnight, Gaddafi
sought to show residents he was still in control.
"Those rats ... were attacked by the masses tonight and we
eliminated them," Gaddafi said. "I know that there are air
bombardments but the fireworks were louder than the sound of the
bombs thrown by the aircraft."
In the eastern city of Benghazi, the rebel National
Transitional Council -- seen by Western powers as Libya's
legitimate government -- said the fighting in Tripoli was part
of a pre-planned and coordinated revolt.
"The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen
up," Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the rebel National
Transitional Council (NTC), based in the eastern Libyan city of
Benghazi, told Reuters.
Gaddafi's influential former number two, Abdel Salam
Jalloud, who defected to the rebel cause a day earlier, appeared
on Al Jazeera by Internet video link and called on the capital
to rise against "the tyrant".
"Tonight you claim victory over fear," he said. An NTC
official, Mohammed al-Allaqi, said Jalloud was in Rome.
The clashes inside the capital triggered massive street
celebrations in Benghazi as well as elsewhere in
rebel-controlled parts of the country and in the capital of
Rebel advances on Tripoli have transformed the war since
they seized the city of Zawiyah on Tripoli's Western outskirts a
week ago, cutting the capital off from its main road link to the
outside world and putting unprecedented pressure on Gaddafi.
Before dawn, state television showed Gaddafi's son Saif
al-Islam addressing what it called a youth conference. A roomful
of supporters broke into occasional chants and applause as he
declared that the rebels would be defeated.
"The revolt in Libya will not succeed. You will never see us
as Libyans surrender and raise the white flag: that is
impossible. This is our country and we will never leave it."
Residents in Tripoli said the fighting was triggered at
sunset, when Muslim clerics used the loudspeakers on mosque
minarets to call people on to the streets.
A Reuters reporter in a hotel near the centre of Tripoli
said there was heavy and sustained gunfire for hours. At times
there would be a lull, then it would start up again.
Accounts from residents suggested that the fighting was
concentrated in the Tajourah and Fashloom districts in the east
of Tripoli, and the Souk al-Jumaa district near the centre --all
areas where anti-Gaddafi feeling runs high.
"We can hear shooting in different places," another resident
said. "Most of the regions of the city have gone out, mostly
young people ... it's the uprising... They went out after
breaking the (Ramadan) fast."
"They are shouting religious slogans: 'God is greatest!'"
Washington says Gaddafi's days are numbered, and reports
have emerged of more defections from his ranks. President Barack
Obama, on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, was receiving regular
updates on Libya, a senior White House official said.
"If Tripoli eventually falls to the rebels, Gaddafi's
already limited options become even more limited. Pressure on
him and his shrinking circle of loyalists has to be taking a
serious toll," a senior White House official said.
(Additional reporting by Robert Birsel in Benghazi, Libya, Ulf
Laessing in Zawiyah, Libya, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Ali
Abdellati in Cairo, Mussab Al-Khairalla in London and Phil
Stewart in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff and Christian
Lowe; Editing by )
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