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Rebels Close In On Libyan Capital

LAURA SULLIVAN, host: Major developments today in the battle for Libya.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

SULLIVAN: Sky News captured the sound of gunfire and tanks in the streets of Zawiyah. Rebel forces say they've taken complete control of the coastal city. It's about 30 miles from Tripoli, the country's capital, and the rebels' ultimate target. And fighting has reportedly broken out there. The moves could be key to the effort to overthrow the government of Moammar Gadhafi.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us from Zawiyah. What do we know about what's happening in the capital?

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: What we know at the moment is that there are reports of heavy clashes in neighborhoods like Tajura and Souq al-Juma. These are neighborhoods that originally rose up against Moammar Gadhafi, and then that rebellion was brutally crushed. We do know, also, from rebel forces that the apparent uprising or rebellion in Tripoli has begun.

I am in the coastal city of Zawiyah, which was cleared of Moammar Gadhafi's forces late yesterday evening. People have been celebrating all day today. And indeed, that celebration has continued. There are people honking their horns, dancing in the streets on the news that potentially - potentially - the fight for Tripoli has, indeed, begun.

SULLIVAN: Do you have any sense of the state of Gadhafi's forces at this point?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What we've seen is that Gadhafi's forces have essentially crumbled in the face of the rebel advance. I was in the city of Gharyan, which is to the south of Tripoli, up in the mountains. It was a city that had been heavily reinforced by Gadhafi. And the rebels were able to take it in a matter of hours. They were able to get into the central square, and it only took a few days to clear Gadhafi's forces from there. They said that Gadhafi's forces fled very quickly, leaving all sorts of ammunition, weapons and even cars behind - another sign at how weak Gadhafi's forces are at the moment.

SULLIVAN: How big a victory is this right now for rebel forces?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They've managed to take the city of Zawiyah in a week. If you think, this is a city of about 200,000 people; it's about 30 miles from the capital. It was a really important fight for Gadhafi to win, and it only took them a week, even though the fighting was brutal and bloody and difficult. That's not very long. And now, they are making their way towards the capital.

The plan was always for the capital to sort of rise up when the rebels got close. And so with the news that Zawiyah has been taken, it was expected that the cells within Tripoli, which we know have been there and have been operating for quite some time, were going to sort of make their move.

SULLIVAN: In Tripoli, have Gadhafi's forces mounted much of a defense? What is that battle like?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We really don't know. I'm not in Tripoli. It's very difficult to know what exactly is happening there at the moment. We do know, of course, that Tripoli is Gadhafi's sort of (unintelligible). It's the place that he's more - most heavily reinforced. It's the place where many of his loyalists reside. So no matter what happens, there will be fighting there.

There are people who are very heavily invested in the Gadhafi regime, and they know that when the rebels take over - which the rebels now feel is only a matter of time - they might face, sort of retribution. However, the general feeling is the rebels will be able to take the city. How quickly is anyone's guess.

SULLIVAN: Is there any sense of where Gadhafi is right now?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We don't know where Gadhafi is. That's been the big question. There's been rumors that he's going to Venezuela. There's been rumors that he might be going to South Africa. We simply don't know. I can tell you that here on the streets of Zawiyah, there was a rumor that said he had already left. And people just started dancing and celebrating and chanting, and saying that this was the happiest moment of their life.

But, you know, we don't really have any confirmation of that. But it just goes to show you that people feel the victory is very, very close now. They're anticipating when the rebels will finally be able to say that they have the capital, and that the hated Moammar Gadhafi - they say - will have left.

SULLIVAN: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro from Zawiyah, Libya, where rebels have just taken control. Thanks so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.