Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Battle for Tripoli Live Blog Aug. 23

Libya: battle for Tripoli – live blog
• Hundreds of rebels storming Gaddafi's compound
• Fighting continues in areas of Tripoli
• Muammar Gaddafi's location unknown

8.09pm: Britain's foreign minister, William Hague, has told the BBC that the fall of the Gaddafi compound was an "important" moment, reports the Press Association.
"The symbolism of it apart from anything else is important," he said.
"For anyone in Libya who thought the Gaddafi regime, that its writ still ran, that what Gaddafi's son was saying this morning was true - well they are really disabused of it when they can see what is happening at the compound there,
"So that is important. But equally of course we have all learned over the last five months not to place too much emphasis on any one development or one piece of news.
"We're in the death throes of this regime, it's a good thing that we've reached that point, the people of Libya have fought their way to that point against violent repression."
Asked where the dictator was, Mr Hague replied: "We don't know where he is, so I am not going to start speculating about that."

7.47pm: A London law firm, which has been appointed to adviseMuammar Gaddafi, has defended taking on the Libyan dictator as a client.
My colleague Robert Booth reports that Shaun Murphy, senior partner at the firm, Edwards Duthie, confirmed he was the only solicitor in England and Wales acting for the Gaddafi family. He stressed that anyone was "entitled to legal representation".
On Tuesday the high court released papers confirming that Edwards Duthie, on behalf of Gaddafi, had issued a legal challenge with the aim of removing representatives of the National Transitional Council from Libya's London embassy and consulate buildings.
The firm, which has its head office in Ilford, north-east London, has lodged two cases with Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart, of the Queen's Bench, alleging that the rebel diplomats are trespassing. Court papers describe the cases as The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya vs persons unknown. Claims for possession orders have been adjourned until October.

7.39pm: Remember the golf buggy used by Muammar Gaddafi on a number of occasions earlier this year in public? Well, the same little vehicle has been taken away from his compound as a rebel trophy

7.24pm: An al-Jazeera journalist has reportedly been shot while covering a gunfight between rebel forces and Muammar Gaddafi's militiamen in Tripoli. My collleague, Josh Halliday, has this:
CNN reported that the journalist, who was not named, was shot at the Gaddafi's fallen compound in the heart of the Libyan capital.
Al-Jazeera had not returned requests for comment at the time of publication. The Committee to Protect Journalists could not verify the CNN report, but said it was "monitoring the situation closely".
The shooting came during a day of intense fighting in the heart of Tripoli.
More than three dozen journalists, including correspondents from the BBC and CNN, came under attack earlier on Tuesday as the Rixos hotel where have spent the last 48 hours trapped came under mortar and RPG fire.
The situation deteriorated dramatically early evening as Matthew Chance, a CNN journalist in the Rixos, reported gunfire inside the hotel.
None of those trapped in the hotel are thought to have been injured, but some reported hunger and discomfort after 48 hours with intermittent electricity and scarce food.
Chance said in a broadcast on CNN: "We're pretty scared right now ... We're stuck here. We want to get out of here". He added that the journalists had "kind of been used [as a human shield by Gaddafi forces]".

7.18pm: The Bab al-Aziziya compound was "the beating heart" of the Muammar Gaddafi regime, writes the Guardian's Harriet Sherwood, who was in Tripoli earlier this year:

The 6 sq km (2.3 sq mile) compound, just south of Tripoli's centre, housed the Gaddafi family's private quarters, regime offices andmilitary barracks for decades. In the past six months, it has also been home to hundreds of pro-regime loyalists who camped out in the sprawling grounds to act as human shields for Gaddafi against Natoair strikes.
Nato war planes struck targets inside Bab al-Aziziya around half-a-dozen times since its mission began in late March, claiming to have destroyed military command-and-control centres. Regime officials denied any such facilities existed within the compound but only permitted the foreign media access to selected bombed buildings.
One night, reporters and TV crews were taken in the early hours to view a multi-storey building which had been destroyed in a Nato bombing mission. Part of it, they said, was a library and books and ringbinders of documents were strewed around the wreckage. Gaddafi liked to read there, the officials said, and Tony Blair had visited the building during a visit when prime minister.
But they blocked access to another bombed building, and became aggressive when reporters asked what it had housed.
Bab al-Aziziya – meaning "splendid gate" – included state and banqueting rooms for receiving foreign dignatories and a football field.
Gaddafi himself was said to live in a Bedouin-style tent in the compound's grounds, although it is thought he has spent much of the past six months in the warren of underground bunkers believed to have been built below Bab al-Aziziya.
The regime reportedly situated the compound within easy reach of Tripoli's international airport, which has been dormant for six months. Other, less obvious, escape routes may have been incorporated into the design.

7.11pm: Reports are coming through that Libya's National Transitional Council in Benghazi could set up a new administration in Tripoli as early as tomorrow, although there has been no confirmation of this yet.

7.07pm: Over at Tripoli's Rixos hotel, where foreign journalists have been based, CNN's Matthew Chance tweets:

Even as compound falls to rebels, #Rixos still in #Gadhafi control. #Rixos4

6.58pm: Scottish officials responsible for keeping contact with Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, have admitted they have still not managed to reach him at home in Tripoli.

However, they also claimed they are "not overly concerned right now", according to Severin Carrell, the Guardian's Scotland correspondent:

Social work officers from East Renfrewshire have been trying for two days to raise Megrahi. He is expected to have fortnightly video call or mobile phone contact with the council, but in all the chaos with the fighting in Tripoli its officials have so far failed to reach him.

Jim Fletcher, the council leader, admitted today he was unclear what they could do if he disappears, or is captured by the rebels. "We're trying to track him down at the moment. Our duty is to make sure he's in Libya. We're monitoring his whereabouts," he said.
"We are in uncharted waters. If we can't track him, I don't know what we would do. We'd need to take advice from the Scottish government."

The council is charged with making sure that Megrahi abides by strict rules about where he lives after he was released early from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds in August 2009. But this is the first time that the regulations on offenders released early have been used for someone living abroad.

A council spokesman said this evening it was factoring in the upheaval and chaos in Tripoli and denied reports attributed to Fox News that it had lost contact with Megrahi. "The inference they've taken is that we've somehow failed to make contact but it's not an issue we're overly concerned about right now," he said.

Official sources said that if Megrahi does breach his licence conditions by leaving home without permission or disappearing, then the council would have to notify the parole board. It would then ask Strathclyde police to issue an arrest warrant which, sources admit, would be effectively unenforceable.

6.54pm: The capture of Gaddafi's fortified residence appears a pivotal moment in Libya's tumultuous six-month revolution. But not everyone is convinced that the war is finally over, reports the Guardian's Luke Harding in Tripoli, where he has been on the streets talking to residents:

'It's a symbolic victory. Gaddafi is still free. He hasn't been captured. That means the game isn't over yet," one sceptical Tripoli resident, Ishmael, said. Others were more upbeat, still trying to digest the news that the leader's grip on the Libyan nation was finally over. "It's very good," one said simply.

"The problem is he is hiding. Nobody knows where he is," Omar Mohamad, a 25-year-old cashier, said.

"If he is still hiding the fighting will continue. If they capture him maybe it will slow down." Some believed that Libya's messianic leader was still preparing for a last defiant

"I think Gaddafi is inside," Abdul Gafar suggested, as rebels began clearing the complex. "Otherwise why would they carry on fighting?" Others said he was long gone.

6.41pm: Fighting is still going on around the Gaddafi compound, reports Wyre Davies for the BBC news channel from inside the compound.

"To all intents and purposes, Gaddafi's years in power have effectively come to an end," he adds however.

6.38pm: Paul Danahar is now reporting from inside the Gaddafi compound for BBC news.
He's just seen a man struggling to haul a fridge out of the base. It's unlikely that Gaddafi was there, believes Danahar.

"Gaddafi knew this was going to be attacked. I suspect he wasn't here for weeks," he added.

6.34pm: While scenes of jubilation are being broadcast from Tripoli, Hugo Chavez has been on television on the other side of the world telling Venezuelan viewers that he wanted to ratify his support for Muammar Gaddafi.

"We only recognize one government - the one led by Gaddafi," said the Venezuelan president, who warned the international community that the "same formula employed in Libya won't work here".

6.30pm: There doesn't seem to be any Gaddafi forces left in the vicinity of the compound, Alex Crawford from Sky reports.
She adds that the bodies of a lot of Gaddafi loyalists are scattered on the ground. In addition to rebel fighters, civilians from the surrounding area are coming to the compound to celebrate.

6.22pm: Not forgetting CNN too. Andy Carvin from National Public Radio tweets:
Sara Sidner's CNN crew pulls back as tons more celebratory gunfire goes off. "Please go between those two walls," the anchor suggests.

6.19pm: Sky News and Al Jazeera seem to be the places to go to to currently for the best live pictures from the Bab al-Aziziya comound for what must surely be a pivotal moment in the conflict. Stuart Ramsay of Sky, who is also reporting outside the base, says that the rebels appear to have surprised even themselves in terms of the speed with which they have taken the compound.

6.09pm: Alex Crawford from Sky News is continuing her extraordinary coverage of the taking of Tripoli from inside the Gaddafi compound in Tripoli.Some incredible footage is coming out of fighters hoisting the pre-revolutionary flag, which has been adopted by the rebels, on top of the compound."C'mon, where are you? We're looking for you ? Come out," one excited fighter shouts into the camera, referring to Muammar Gaddafi.

6.06pm: Good evening. This is Ben Quinn taking over the live blog.
You can also follow me on twitter at BenQuinn75

5.50pm: Defence expert Robert Fox is telling the BBC special forces from Qatar and the UAE, with US, British and French training, are responsible for the successful attack on Tripoli. "It has been a genuine Arab coalition ... I think it was the Qataris that led them through the breach." He said William Hague was "dissembling" in his comments just now. Fox says he has heard the Scud missile fired from Sirte may have been carrying mustard gas. "There are mustard gas stocks. There are real concerns that he [Muammar Gaddafi] and the boys, the sons, could be planning some weird diabolical nasty at the end."

5.49pm: Libyan rebels will discuss the indictments of Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi with the international criminal court but would like to try them as war criminals in Libya, Libyan deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said.

5.48pm: Muammar Gaddafi is either in or near to Tripoli, a spokesman for the rebel National Transitional Council said this evening. "We don't think that he has left the country. We believe he is still inside Libya. We believe that he is either in Tripoli or close to Tripoli," Guma el-Gamaty told BBC television. "Sooner or later, he will be found, either alive and arrested - and hopefully that is the best outcome we want - or if he resists he will be killed."

5.46pm: South Africa insisted it has had no direct communication with Muammar Gaddafi's regime for at least a week but is working on a ceasefire plan in its role as a member of the African Union, David Smith reports from Johannesburg.

5.40pm: The British foreign secretary, William Hague, is on BBC News; he refuses to confirm Nato bombardment helped the rebels breach Gaddafi's compound. He says he does not know where Gaddafi is and plays down his importance. He is vague about what exactly British military advisers are doing and refuses to confirm they are on the ground in Tripoli right now. He pays tribute to the rebels for their "decisive effort" in Tripoli.
Asked about Gaddafi's possible coming use of chemical weapons, he says the situation is still dangerous and points out that the Libyan leader's forces fired a Scud missile earlier on. "We are not looking at British troops being a significant part of a stabilisation" or peacekeeping operation in the future, Hague says. Britain will help with military advisers and money, he says.

Asked about the extradition of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber sent back to Libya because he was terminally ill and still very much alive, he says: "If I was a Scottish minister ... I would be looking to urgently review the situation and see what I can do about it."

5.39pm: My colleague Luke Harding describes the rebel attack on Gaddafi's compound today:

The bombardment was furious. Mortars, rockets, small arms fire, a dark, rolling, continuous symphony. The noise reverberated across the city, sometimes coloured by rebel cheering and hooting. Luke says that if Saif Gaddafi is right and all of his family are still in Tripoli, "Libya's leader is now master of a tiny empire. It comprises a sliver of central Tripoli and a few loyal but cut-off cities: Sirte – his hometown – and Sabah, in the distant southern desert."

The rebels now control most of Tripoli, following their spectacular advances last week and jubilant entry into the capital on Sunday night. They occupy its western districts. In the centre they control the harbour, the coast road and Green Square, badly damaged in the conflict. They occupy the old city; a red, black and green tricolour today hung above its ancient fort walls. Only complete control of Gaddafi's central compound eludes them - and perhaps not for long - plus a central-southern triangle of territory where Gaddafi's dancing supporters once lived in tent-cities.

Movement around Tripoli is difficult, dangerous and not to be recommended. The rebels have set up numerous checkpoints. In clearly defined opposition areas, negotiating them is simple. But on the frontline the fighters are suspicious and even hostile, firing into
the air when I got too close.

5.29pm: Sky and the BBC are showing pictures of rebels climbing on the statue of a hand crushing an American aeroplane inside Gaddafi's compound.

Gaddafi spoke in front of the statue when the conflict began in February.

5.20pm: CNN is reporting that the rebels are saying they have now captured Gaddafi's compound and the "fight is finished". The blasts coming from the compound are celebratory, they say. There is still no sign of Muammar Gaddafi.

5.14pm: Chris Stephen writes from Misrata that Nato's actions are subject to scrutiny by the international criminal court just as Muammar Gaddafi's are.
The ICC's statute prohibits attacks on civilians, of which there appear to be thousands in residential areas around the Libyan leader's Bab al-Aziziya complex, Chris writes.
But war law does allow for what amounts to "collateral damage" – if the target is military then civilian losses may be allowed if they are proportional to the damage inflicted. And ICC judges may be likely to agree that targeting what is the command and control complex for the Libyan leader, who is himself a legitimate military target, makes the compound a legitimate target, even if there are some civilian casualties.

The problem for even the most hard-headed Nato lawyers is that the ICC has set no precedent for where lies the line between acceptable and unacceptable civilian losses; only a court judgment would do this and the alliance will be anxious, as it debates strategy in the coming hours, not to become the first test case.

Chris Stephen is author of Judgement Day: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic.
5.10pm: Al-Jazeera just showed pictures it said were from inside Muammar Gaddafi's compound showing rebel fighters holding up the head of a Gaddafi statue, and kicking it around on the floor.

5.09pm: Hello and welcome to Middle East live this evening as events move quickly in Libya. Here's a summary of today's key developments.Click here to read today's live blog and see how events unfolded.


• Hundreds of Libyan rebels are storming Muammar Gaddafi's main compound in the centre of Tripoli as the battle for the capital continues (see 4.35pm). There are reports they control one of the gates and have been firing into the air in celebration, an indication perhaps of their confidence. They appear to be meeting little or no resistance there. However, the compound covers a large area. Fighting continues in various areas of the city.

• Gaddafi's whereabouts are still unknown, although he is suspected to be in his compound. Russian chess federation chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov said he spoke to the Libyan leader today by phone and he said he was still in Libya, and apparently in the company of his son Mohammad, who reportedly escaped from house arrest by the rebels yesterday (see 3.59pm). A Nato spokesman said he had no idea where he was and played down his importance (see 1.53pm).

• Nato officials in Brussels said the alliance's warplanes were flying over Tripoli today, but that there are no "indications" they have dropped any bombs on the city (see 2.49pm). Nato ambassadors are meeting in Brussels at Nato headquarters to discuss the way forward in Libya and look at "options for a possible Nato role" once the conflict is over (see 1.53pm). This will not include Nato troops on the ground and any role would have to be requested by the new Libyan government and led by the UN. The Nato mission will continue until all Gaddafi's forces have withdrawn to their bases and there is full humanitarian access. Reuters is reporting that the US is monitoring Libya's few chemical weapons sites. Amnesty International warned that the continued fighting was posing a serious danger to civilians (see 4.05pm). Rebels from Misrata are rushing to Tripoli to help with the fight (see 3.23pm).

• Confusion surrounds the reappearance last night of Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam. Opposition figures said he had escaped from custody. The international criminal court has denied that it ever confirmed he had been arrested (see 10.55am). His reappearance is seen as an embarrassment to the court as it attempts to seek war crimes prosecutions. Britain's deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said Saif's reappearance was "not the sign of a comeback". The rebels' original report of his capture may have been an inept attempt at propaganda that has now misfired (see 3.19pm).

• Bahrain recognised the National Transitional Council as Libya's legitimate authority. Italy announced plans for meeting in Milan between Mahmoud Jibril of Libya's National Transition Council and the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (see 11.19am).

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