HEAVy fighting was taking place near Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli today as rebels moved ever closer to toppling the Libyan leader.
Opposition fighters captured his son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam. Another son was under house arrest.
Euphoric rebels seized control of most of the capital in a lightning advance, celebrating the victory in Green Square, the symbolic heart of Gaddafi’s regime.
Gaddafi’s defenders quickly melted away as his 42-year rule crumbled, but the leader’s whereabouts were unknown and pockets of resistance remained.
Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Rahman said tanks emerged from the complex, known as Bab al-Aziziya, early today and began firing.
State TV broadcast Gaddafi’s bitter pleas for Libyans to defend his regime.
Last night, hundreds of jubilant men and women massed in Green Square chanting: “It’s over, frizz-head.” The revellers fired shots in the air, clapped and waved the rebels’ tricolour flag. Some set fire to the green flag of Gaddafi’s regime and shot holes in a poster with the leader’s image.
Rebels said their startling breakthrough, after a long deadlock was the culmination of a closely coordinated plan by rebels, Nato and anti-Gaddafi residents inside Tripoli.
Rebel fighters from the west swept over 20 miles in a matter of hours yesterday, taking town after town and overwhelming a major military base. At the same time, Tripoli residents secretly armed by rebels rose up.
By the early hours of today, opposition fighters controlled most of the capital.
Abdel-Hakim Shugafa, a 26-year-old rebel fighter, said he was stunned by how easy it was. He saw only about 20 minutes of gun battles as he and his fellow fighters pushed into the capital at nightfall.
“I expect Libya to be better,” he said. “He [Gaddafi] oppressed everything in the country – health and education. Now we can build a better Libya.”
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his break in Cornwall to return to London last night and was chairing a meeting of the National Security Council for Libya this morning.
President Barack Obama said Libya was “slipping from the grasp of a tyrant” and urged Gaddafi to relinquish power to prevent more bloodshed.
He said: “The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people.”
In a series of angry and defiant audio messages broadcast on state television, Gaddafi called on his supporters to march in the streets of the capital and “purify it” of “the rats”.
But it seemed that significant parts of Gaddafi’s regime were abandoning him. His prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi, was said to have fled to Tunisia.