Monday, August 22, 2011

Saturday - All Roads Lead to Green Square


The symbolic importance of Green Square

Like Tahrir Square in Egypt, Tripoli’s Green Square has been more than a mere landmark in the ongoing clash pitting rebels against pro-regime forces in Libya. As the site of anti-government protests, but primarily of demonstrations by Muammar Gaddafi supporters and of fiery speeches by the leader himself, the palm-tree-lined square has been a barometre used to gauge who has the upper hand in the northern African nation.

In a nod to that symbolic value, rebels who poured into the area on Saturday after advancing into the capital immediately renamed it “Martyrs Square” in honour of Libyans killed over the past few months.

Originally built by Libya’s Italian colonial rulers, the area was called “Independence Square” under the Libyan monarchy in place after World War II. But Gaddafi marked his territory by rebaptising the space “Green Square” after seizing power in 1969. In 2009, six days of festivities were organised to mark the 40th anniversary of Gaddafi’s arrival in power. And only a few months ago, foreign journalists selected by the government were invited to the square in order to observe the throngs of pro-regime militants.

“Life without dignity has no value, life without green flags has no value. So sing and dance!” Gaddafi proclaimed on February 25th during one of his impassioned speeches at the square. But on the night of Sunday, August 21, rebels tore down those flags -- as well as portraits of the ruler -- and danced on them in a gesture of defiance against the regime and jubilation at reclaiming the place that was once most closely associated with it.

Libyan Rebels Take Tripoli

Libyan rebels entered central Tripoli Sunday in a final move to end Muammar Gaddafi's four-decade rule. The militants took over the symbolic Green Square, renaming it "Martyr's Square" for those who have given their lives, and took control of key roads and airports. Sky News showed boisterous crowds cheering in the streets and many waving the red, black, and green flag of the anti-regime forces, while shouting "Allahu Akbar!" (God is greatest!) People also burned posters of Gaddafi and the green flag of the regime they have nearly overturned. According to Libyan government spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim, who insists the regime is still strong, 1,300 people died today in the battle for the capital.
Read it at Agence France-Press

Name change for Libyan square on Google Maps

San Francisco: Google Inc.'s online mapping service has changed the name of a Libyan location to what it was called before Muammar Gaddafi rose to power four decades ago.
The change came late Sunday, just hours after rebel forces pushed into Tripoli with little resistance.

"Green Square" is now "Martyrs' Square" on the online map for Tripoli, reflecting what rebels are now calling it.

The change was made quickly because Google now allows users to update its maps. A user did just that on Sunday night. Google approved it, making it visible to the public, shortly thereafter.

Although the square's name has been re-labeled on the map, users can find it by searching either name.

Google uses a broad range of sources to keep its maps up to date. This includes public and commercial data providers as well as user contributions.

By Missy RyanPublished on August 22, 2011

Jubilant rebel fighters swept into the heart of Tripoli as Muammar Gaddafi's forces collapsed and crowds took to the streets to celebrate what they saw as the rapidly approaching end of his four decades of absolute power.

Rebels waving opposition flags and firing into the air drove into Green Square, a symbolic showcase the government had until recently used for mass demonstrations in support of the now embattled Gaddafi. Rebels immediately began calling it Martyrs Square.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Gaddafi's rule was showing signs of collapse and called on him to quit now to avoid further bloodshed.

Laila Jawad, 36, who works at a Tripoli nursery, said: "We are about to be delivered from the tyrant's rule. It's a new thing for me. I am very optimistic. Praise be to God."
The rebels made their entrance into the capital driving in convoy through a western neighbourhood.

A rebel spokesman said the rebels now controlled over 95 percent of Tripoli.
Two of Gaddafi's sons were captured by the rebels, who were also reported to have seized the Libyan state radio building in the capital. Gaddafi's presidential guard units laid down their arms.

Remaining defiant, Gaddafi earlier had made two audio addresses over state television calling on Libyans to fight off the rebels.

"I am afraid if we don't act, they will burn Tripoli," he said. "There will be no more water, food, electricity or freedom."

But resistance to the rebels appeared to have largely faded away, allowing the rebels and their supporters to demonstrate in Green Square.

Libyans kissed the ground in gratitude for what some called a "blessed day".

Near Green Square youths burned the green flags of the Gaddafi government and raised the rebel flag. One rebel fighter from the Western mountain said: "We are so happy -- we made it here without any problems."

Many Tripoli residents received a text message from the rebel leadership saying: "God is Great. We congratulate the Libyan people on the fall of Muammar Gaddafi."

Gaddafi, a colourful and often brutal autocrat who has ruled Libya for more than 40 years, said he was breaking out weapons stores to arm the population. His spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, predicted a violent reckoning by the rebels.

"A massacre will be committed inside Tripoli if one side wins now, because the rebels have come with such hatred, such vendetta...Even if the leader leaves or steps down now, there will be a massacre."

Obama, on vacation in the island of Martha's Vineyard, said in a statement: "The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Muammar Gaddafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end. Gaddafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all."
NATO, which has backed the rebels with a bombing campaign, said the transition of power in Libya must be peaceful.


After a six-month civil war, the fall of Tripoli came quickly, with a carefully orchestrated uprising launched on Saturday night to coincide with the advance of rebel troops on three fronts. Fighting broke out after the call to prayer from the minarets of the mosques.

Rebel National Transitional Council Coordinator Adel Dabbechi confirmed that Gaddafi's younger son Saif Al-Islam had been captured. The International Criminal Court in The Hague, which wants Saif along with his father on charges of crimes against humanity, said he should be handed over for trial.

Gaddafi's eldest son Mohammed Al-Gaddafi had surrendered to rebel forces, Dabbechi told Reuters. In a television interview, the younger Gaddafi said gunmen had surrounded his house, but he later told al-Jazeera in a phone call that he and his family were unharmed.

Only five months ago Gaddafi's forces were set to crush the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the leader warning then that there would be "no mercy, no pity" for his opponents. His forces, he said, would hunt them down "district to district, street to street, house to house, room to room".

The United Nations then acted quickly, clearing the way for creation of a no-fly zone that NATO, with a campaign of bombing, used ultimately to help drive back Gaddafi's forces.
"It's over. Gaddafi's finished," said Saad Djebbar, former legal adviser to the Libyan government.

In Benghazi in the east, thousands gathered in a city-centre square waving red, black and green opposition flags and trampling on pictures of Gaddafi as news filtered through of rebel advances into Tripoli.

Mohammed Derah, a Libyan activist in Tripoli told Al Jazeera: "This is another day, a new page in Libya's history. We are witnessing a new dawn and a new history of freedom. The regime is finished."

"We are living historic momments, moments that we haven't witnessed since we were born, since we came out of our mothers' wombs," said We'am Mohanna

Celebratory gunfire and explosions rang out over the city and cars blaring their horns crowded onto the streets. Overhead, red tracer bullets darted into a black sky.

"It does look like it is coming to an end," said Anthony Skinner, Middle East analyst, Maplecroft. "But there are still plenty of questions. The most important is exactly what Gaddafi does now. Does he flee or can he fight?"

"In the slightly longer term, what happens next? We know there have been some serious divisions between the rebel movement and we don't know yet if they will be able to form a cohesive front to run the country."

Gaddafi, in his second audio broadcast in 24 hours, dismissed the rebels as rats.
"I am giving the order to open the weapons stockpiles," Gaddafi said. "I call on all Libyans to join this fight. Those who are afraid, give your weapons to your mothers or sisters.

"Go out, I am with you until the end. I am in Tripoli. We will ... win."
A Libyan government official told Reuters that 376 people on both sides of the conflict were killed in fighting overnight on Saturday in Tripoli, with about 1,000 others wounded.

A diplomatic source in Paris, where the government has closely backed the rebels, said underground rebel cells in the capital had been following detailed plans drawn up months ago and had been waiting for a signal to act.

That signal was "iftar" -- the moment when Muslims observing the holy months of Ramadan break their daily fast. It was at this moment that imams started broadcasting their message from the mosques, residents said.

Libyan rebels enter Tripoli, meet only sporadic resistance

By JEFFREY FLEISHMAN - Los Angeles Times - storylink=mirelated

Into the heart of the Libyan capital, meeting only sporadic resistance from forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi who were trying to protect a rapidly shrinking stronghold in the face of the insurgent onslaught, NATO airstrikes and uprisings in neighborhoods across Tripoli.
After six months of fighting, it was clear that Gadhafi's loyalists were being pressed hard on multiple and shifting fronts. Rebels advanced from the south, east and west while Muslim clerics urged armed residents in the city and its outskirts to confront the Libyan army.

The whereabouts of the man who has ruled Libya for more than four decades were unknown. Television reports showed jubilant rebel fighters in Green Square, where Gadhafi supporters have held almost nightly rallies during the uprising. Young men in Tripoli stomped on posters of Gadhafi while waving rebel flags in bullet-pocked streets.

It was unclear whether Gadhafi's forces had been overwhelmed or were creating a lull before a counterattack. Poorly trained and undisciplined rebels have made dramatic advances in the past, only to be pushed back by Gadhafi loyalists. U.S. officials cautioned that Gadhafi retained supporters in the military, who could launch vicious urban fighting.

But the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said Gadhafi's regime was "clearly crumbling," and it urged forces still loyal to him to lay down their arms. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court confirmed rebel reports that Gadhafi's son and onetime heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, had been captured. The court has indicted Gadhafi, Seif al-Islam and Libya's intelligence chief on charges of planning attacks on civilians in the early days of the uprising.

Rebels said another son, Mohammed, had surrendered. Media reports said opposition forces had overrun the base of the elite 32nd Brigade commanded by another son, Khamis. The headquarters, which insurgents looted of weapons and ammunition, is about 15 miles outside the capital. Its loss would be a major strategic setback for the Libyan army and a large symbolic victory for the rebels.

Though Moammar Gadhafi has not been seen in public for weeks, a series of audio broadcasts Sunday added a surreal air to the rebel advance and celebrations in downtown Tripoli. "The tribes must march to Tripoli now to defend and purify it," he told Libyans. "How can you allow Tripoli to be burned?"

The intense pressure on Gadhafi throughout the day led his government to offer a cease-fire, warning that atrocities might occur if the rebel offensive wasn't stopped. But even as that appeal was made, Gadhafi taunted the insurgents as rats, and a newscaster on state television brandished a pistol on air and promised to kill rebels.

The government calls for "an immediate halt of NATO's aggression against our nation and for all parties to sit down and begin a peaceful way out of this crisis," spokesman Musa Ibrahim said at a news conference in Tripoli. "We believe unless the international community heeds this appeal, many people will be killed and terrible crimes will be committed."

Speaking late Sunday night, Ibrahim said Libyan forces were battling the rebels, whom he described as "vengeful, hateful" tribes, across Tripoli in the neighborhoods of Janzour, Gargaresh and elsewhere. "NATO will be held responsible morally and legally for the deaths" occurring that night, he said.

In a mind game of intrigue and deception, each side was claiming the upper hand through much of the day. Opposition forces advancing from the town of Zawiya, about 30 miles west of Tripoli, retreated after fierce battles. They gathered in Jaddayim and regrouped for another onslaught. Rebel leaders said their supporters had rallied inside the capital as part of a coordinated operation, but the government claimed "armed gangs" had been defeated.

The collaborators with "the West are moving from one town to the next claiming control, but they are not in control, they are escaping like rats," Gadhafi said in an audio broadcast on Libyan television early Sunday. "People are kissing my picture. I am their leader, I am their father."

But rebels claimed that hundreds of Gadhafi loyalists and soldiers had abandoned their posts. They said opposition sympathizers took control of a neighborhood in east Tripoli while residents in other parts of the capital fled food and gas shortages.

Rebels also claimed to have sent fighters, weapons and ammunition by boat from Misurata, a city east of Tripoli that had been cut off and besieged for much of the conflict.
NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie told reporters in Brussels that the fast-moving events were complicating the choosing of targets for airstrikes by the alliance. "There is no longer a traditional front line as we had in other phases of the conflict," Lavoie said.
Operating under a U.N. Security Council mandate to protect civilians, NATO has conducted months of airstrikes to weaken Gadhafi's forces.

"The sooner Gadhafi realizes that he cannot win a battle against his own people, the better - so that the Libyan people can be spared further bloodshed and suffering," the alliance said in a statement late Sunday.

It pledged to work with rebel leaders on a transition to a new government.

U.S. officials said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Barack Obama, who is vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, were receiving regular updates. Obama told reporters that U.S. officials would make a statement when they had full confirmation of the situation on the ground.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has visited Libya twice this year, said the battle between Gadhafi and rebel forces was "nearing the end."

U.S. officials have been worried that Gadhafi's fall could be followed by chaos, potentially including tribal feuding, and they urged anti-Gadhafi groups to begin organizing for a peaceful transition.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam had been seized by rebel special forces and that regime figures should face "justice, not revenge."

Only in recent weeks have the lightly armed rebels capitalized on NATO bombardments of Gadhafi's artillery, tanks and supply routes.

The insurgents have made costly tactical mistakes in the past and have yet to encounter an urban battlefield such as Tripoli, a city of more than 1.6 million that may be booby-trapped and defended by snipers and pro-Gadhafi militias.

But high-level defections have jeopardized Gadhafi's control. Abdel-Salam Jalloud, who helped the Libyan leader rise to power in a 1969 coup, defected in recent days and is reported to be in Rome. Jalloud has influence with the nation's clans and urged Gadhafi's tribe to "disown this tyrant because he will go and you will end up inheriting his legacy."

In a video message broadcast by Al-Jazeera, he added: "It is time to act. ... Overcome fear."

The rebel offensive, a careening parade of mud-splattered pickup trucks and mismatched uniforms, gained momentum a week ago. Insurgents entered Zawiya and pressed into Gharyan, about 50 miles south of the capital. They later captured Zlitan, a strategic coastal town. Those victories squeezed Gadhafi's supply lines. Pressure on the government intensified when rebels stormed the key oil city of Port Brega, about 420 miles east of Tripoli.
(Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Beirut and Tribune Washington Bureau staff writers Paul Richter and Kim Geiger contributed to this report.)


Libya rebels hold most of Tripoli, face resistance

Libyan rebels meet stiff resistance as they near Tripoli

Libyan rebels tighten grip on Tripoli

Gadhafi son reported arrested by rebels is free

Libyan rebels tighten grip on Tripoli as Gadhafi stays in hiding

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