libya- (wrapup 7, tv, pix)-0821-08
* Heavy fighting overnight in districts of capital
* Government claims attack in Tripoli crushed
* Rebels say their forces advancing on the capital
* Gaddafi scorns rebel "rats"
By Missy Ryan
TRIPOLI, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Libyan rebels said they had
seized control of pockets of Tripoli after a night of fighting,
while allied forces advanced on the capital on Sunday,
predicting a final showdown with Muammar Gaddafi.
The Libyan leader dismissed the rebels, fighting since
February to topple him, as "rats" and said he would not yield.
In a coordinated revolt that rebels have been secretly
planning for months to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule, shooting
started on Saturday night across Tripoli moments after Muslim
clerics, using the louspeakers on mosque minarets, called people
on to the streets.
The fighting inside Tripoli, combined with rebel advances to
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 powers.
But Gaddafi's fall is far from certain. His security forces
did not buckle as some rebels had predicted. The uprising
appeared to be isolated to a few neighbourhoods, and had not
spread to the whole city.
If the Libyan leader is forced from power, there are
question marks over whether the opposition can restore stability
in this oil exporting country. The rebels' own ranks have been
wracked by disputes and rivalry.
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But 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 than during the night.
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.
"Our revolutionaries are controlling several neighbourhoods
and others are coming in from outside the city to join their
brothers at this time," Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the
rebel National Transition Council, told Reuters in the eastern
city of Benghazi.
Rebel advances outside Libya in the past week tipped the
balance of the conflict against Gaddafi, and their ability to
march into the city could now decide the outcome of the battle
"Gaddafi's chances for a safe exit are diminishing by the
hour. The more he stays the narrower his base, and the easier it
will be for him to be caught or killed," Ashour Shamis, UK-based
opposition editor and activist, said. "I think he's not being
told the whole picture. (His son) Saif al-Islam is the one who
is leading the fight for him."
Gaddafi's whereabouts have been kept secret.
Rebel forces were gathering south of Tripoli, where they
told a Reuters reporter they were preparing to attack
Al-Aziziyah, a town about 45 km (27 miles) from the city.
Another rebel force was trying to advance from Zlitan, about 150
km to the east.
The closest rebel contingent was in Zawiyah, half an hour's
drive to the west of Tripoli. Doctors at a clinic on the
oustkirts said rebels has pushed 10 km east towards Tripoli and
were fighting for control of a town called Jaddaim.
"It was very bloody in Jaddaim today. There are many more
casualties at other hospitals," said a doctor at the clinic,
where three dead rebels had been brought by mid-morning on
Sunday. The sound of artillery fire could be heard coming
from the direction of the front line.
In Tripoli itself, the two sides appeared to be
jockeying for control of rooftop terraces where they could place
firing positions, possibly in preparation for a new burst of
fighting after nightfall.
A rebel activist in Tripoli said pro-Gaddafi forces had put
snipers on the rooftops of buildings around Bab al-Aziziyah,
Gaddafi's compound, and on the top of a nearby water tower.
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," he said. It was not immediately
possible to verify his account independently.
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.
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."
A senior British official said Gaddafi did not grasp
the pressure that he was under.
"It's been clear that Gaddafi has not had a firm grip
on reality -- as we heard from his comments last night -- and
has not been interested personally in leaving or negotiating,"
said Alastair Burt, a foreign office minister.
"But those around him have continued to defect."
"That pressure indicates that those around Gaddafi know
what's going on. One can only hope that they're getting messages
through to him," Burt told the BBC.
(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 Ralph Boulton)