08/21/2011 08:09 EDT | Updated 10/21/2011 05:12 EDT

Libya: Tripoli Protests Erupt, Rebels Within Miles Of Capital

Libyan rebel fighters have taken control of large swaths of the capital, Tripoli, further weakening longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi's faltering regime.

Rebels moved through the capital city to the central Green Square, as Gadhafi's supporters appeared to melt away after months of fierce fighting and NATO airstrikes. The square, which had been the site of numerous pro-Gadhafi rallies throughout the conflict, would be renamed Martyrs' Square, the rebels said.

The highly symbolic seizure is one of several signs that Gadhafi's 42-year rule is teetering on collapse. Two of Gadhafi's sons have been detained, NATO says his reign is "crumbling," and the rebel National Transitional Council said the military unit in charge of protecting Gadhafi and the city had surrendered.

As rebels moved into the capital, a government stronghold since the uprising began in late February, revellers in the square fired shots in the air, clapped and cheered. Some set fire to the green flag of Gadhafi's regime and shot holes in a poster with the leader's image, while others stomped on images of Gadhafi's face.

Pockets of resistance

Despite the rebels' progress, Al-Jazeera reported that there were some pockets of resistance in the capital city. Early Monday, the network said there were reports of shelling around one of Gadhafi's compounds, though that could not be confirmed.

Earlier, a defiant Gadhafi called on Libyans to defend Tripoli and lamented the advance of the rebels, who met little resistance as they pushed through the capital city.

"How can you allow for Tripoli to be burnt, to be destroyed?" said Gadhafi, who released four audio messages broadcast on state television Sunday."These buildings we built with our own efforts, these cities and towns that we built with our own sweat?"

Gadhafi, the longest serving ruler in the Arab world, had previously suggested he would fight to the end, but he was not visible in the televised statements and his whereabouts are unknown.

After months of clashes and frequent stalemates, rebels gained significant ground over the weekend. The advance came after intense gun battles between rebels and Gadhafi's forces were heard Sunday in areas east, west and south of Tripoli's centre, according to residents and foreign reporters in the city.

The head of the rebels' political committee said the opposition's National Transitional Council had been working on the offensive for the past three months, co-ordinating with NATO and rebels within Tripoli. Sleeper cells were set up in the capital, armed by rebel smugglers, the Associated Press reported. On Thursday and Friday, NATO intensified strikes inside the capital, and on Saturday, the sleeper cells began to rise up.

Mahmoud Shammam, the rebel minister of information, said the military unit in charge of protecting Gadhafi and Tripoli had surrendered. When the unit dropped its arms, it essentially opened the way for the rebels to enter the city with little resistance.

In Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city that serves as a base for the rebel forces, ecstatic crowds poured into the main square to cheer the rebel advances.

Tripoli slipping away, Obama says

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement that Tripoli "is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant."

Obama said Gadhafi and his regime "need to recognize that their rule has come to an end." He said Gadhafi must step down and urged the rebel leadership to respect the rights of Libyans, avoid civilian casualties and protect the country's institutions.

Canada is also monitoring the situation, a spokesman for the prime minister's office said.

"Canada is hopeful that the end is near for the Gadhafi regime and that authority will soon transition to the National Transitional Council of Libya, the recognized governing body of Libya," PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas said in a statement Sunday.

Earlier, NATO said Gadhafi's rule was "crumbling" and urged him to end the "war against his own people."

1 Gadhafi son arrested, another surrenders

The rebel National Transitional Council said Gadhafi's eldest son, Muhammad, had surrendered and another son, one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam, had been captured.

Moammar Gadhafi, Seif al-Islam and Abdullah Senussi, the country's head of military intelligence, have all been indicted for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, which confirmed Seif al-Islam's detention.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said his office would talk to the rebels on Monday about Seif al-Islam's transfer for trial. "It is time for justice, not revenge," Luis Moreno-Ocampo said.

Rebels have been fighting forces loyal to Gadhafi since the uprising began in February, against a backdrop of popular revolutions across the Arab world.

Early battles in the Libyan civil war focused on areas in the rebel-dominated east, such as the cities of Brega and Ajdabiya. After consolidating their positions in the east, the rebels closed in on Tripoli from there and from Misrata, their foothold in the largely government-held western half of the country.

On March 27, NATO began a bombing campaign against Gadhafi, following a UN Security Council resolution. On July 15, delegates from more than 30 countries, including Canada, declared Gadhafi's regime no longer legitimate, officially recognizing his main opposition — the National Transitional Council — as the country's governing authority.