Tripoli celebrates fall of Gaddafi compound
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Tripoli erupted in joy on Tuesday after rebel forces overran Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s Bab al-Azizya compound. Crowds drove around the city honking horns and waving the pre-Gaddafi flag the rebels have adopted as their standard.
AFP - Tripoli erupted into celebratory gunfire on Tuesday after rebels stormed and captured Moamer Kadhafi's heavily fortified compound, sending his troops fleeing and raising their flag in victory.
Not long afterwards once-feared Bab al-Azizya fell, the insurgent commander in Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, said we "won the battle" for Tripoli, and that Kadhafi and his cronies had "fled like rats."
"The military battle is over now," he said, adding that 90 percent of Kadhafi's compound at Bab al-Azizya "has been secured" with some pockets of resistance remaining.
From early in the day, the attention of Tripoli and the world was focused on the strongman's headquarters in the massive walled compound in the centre of the capital after rebels launched a fierce assault on it.
The sky was filled with the sound of heavy and light machine guns, as well as mortars, with the overhead roar of NATO jets.
Even two kilometres (about a mile) away from the fighting, the almost constant whistle of bullets could be heard from the rooftops, as chants of "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) blared from mosque minarets.
Then the news broke.
First that the rebels had breached the walls, then that the compound had been captured.
An AFP correspondent at the scene said "they have taken Bab al-Azizya. Completely. It is finished."
But the question on everybody's mind had no answer.
Kadhafi was nowhere to be found.
"Bab al-Azizya is fully under our control now. Colonel Kadhafi and his sons were not there; there is nobody," Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said from the rebel bastion of Benghazi.
"No one knows where they are," he added.
But failure to find the former colonel, who has ruled the oil-rich North African nation with an iron hand for four decades, did not dampen enthusiasm.
The whole city erupted with celebratory gunfire.
There were massive traffic jams as families drove around to celebrate, honking their horns and waving the pre-Kadhafi red, black and green flag the rebels have adopted as their standard.
From inside the compound, television footage showed a young rebel climbing atop a huge sculpture of a fist gripping an airplane -- a symbol of a US attack on the compound in 1986 -- trying to break off a piece of it.
Many people gathered outside the partly destroyed building behind the sculpture that Kadhafi has kept in ruin in defiance of the Americans who had bombed it.
Another rebel proudly brandished a seized rifle with a gold-plated barrel and stock saying "Kadhafi people killed us with it."
As young men tore up a poster portrait of Kadhafi, others ripped the head of a statue of Kadhafi and stepped on it. One of them, a green bandana around his head, then picked it up and held it above his head like a trophy, flashing a smile.
Commenting on the seizure of the compound, a rebel official in the western city of Misrata said that "at the same house used by Kadhafi before to describe the Libyan people as rats, today the independence flag is flying on its roof."
Huge numbers of people, some armed, others not, on foot, in cars, in pickup trucks were moving around inside the compound.
Amid reports that ordinary citizens were beginning to stream into the complex of several hectares (acres), rebel television Al-Ahrar called on people to stay away so that insurgent fighters could mop up inside.
It also urged police in Tripoli to remain at their posts in order to guarantee security.
An old man with three small children came out of a house. They looked bewildered, as if they had not been out for days.
As evening fell on Tripoli, small groups of rebels and young men still milled inside the compound.
Women who were weeping earlier in the day with desperation, were now ululating with joy.
"Today this is the end," said a rebel, Mohammed. "Today Libya is free."
"Welcome to free Libya," another rebel said. "Now we will make democracy."
Inside Bab al-Azizya, the place that once struck terror in the hearts of Kadhafi opponents, small groups of rebels and young men still milled around.
Most appeared to have gone, as Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan were breaking a dawn-to-dusk fast by having family meals.
The poignancy of that can not have gone unnoticed.
Just days ago, the head of the rebels' Benghazi-based National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, had confidently predicted that he would celebrate the feast of Eid el-Fitr -- which will cap Ramadan next week -- in Tripoli.