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Rebels Advance On Libyan Capital Of Tripoli

LAURA SULLIVAN, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan, in for Guy Raz.

Libyan rebels are streaming through the streets of the capital, Tripoli, today, and the sounds of celebration are spreading through several cities.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

SULLIVAN: That was fighters in the town of Maya, just 12 miles from the capital. The rebels are saying that the elite unit guarding Libya's president Moammar Gadhafi has surrendered, and two of his sons reportedly were captured. But a short time ago, Gadhafi sent out an audio message to Libyan state television. Here he is pleading through a translator for people in other parts of the country to come defend Tripoli.

MOAMMAR GADHAFI: (Through Translator) This is something very dangerous. If Tripoli was to burn like Baghdad did, how can you allow for it to be a place of destruction and be set to light? This should not happen. This must not happen.

SULLIVAN: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Tripoli tonight. Lulu, what are you seeing there?

LOURDES GARCIA: The mood is absolutely ebullient. We have been driving through some of the neighborhoods in Tripoli, and I don't know if you can hear, but there are cars streaming in from the coastal city of Zawiyah. Rebels coming in, honking their horns, putting the V for victory sign, and they're being received by the residents here with rebel flags and cheers. So clearly, certain neighborhoods of the capital are ecstatic to see the rebels finally arrive in the city.

We're also hearing from the rebel leadership that they have caught Gadhafi's son and heir apparent Saif al-Islam. It was believed that he was running the country all this time. I'm going to let one of those cars go by - again, honking their horns in celebration. A real sense of ebullience right now. The news that the rebel leadership has caught Saif al-Islam has really sent people into overdrive here. They really feel that this is the end now.

SULLIVAN: Have you seen any of Gadhafi's forces?

GARCIA: Absolutely not. The rebels really made a lightning move up this coast. There was a battle in the town of Maya today. That was the last sort of base before the gates of Tripoli. Once that base was taken care of, the rebels just sort of stormed on in, and they were greeted with cheers.

We've seen Gadhafi's forces essentially crumble in the face of the rebel advance. They have been weak for some time now. A combination of low morale and, of course, the relentless NATO attacks. But beyond that, there are still parts of the city, of course, that are not under rebel control. And the fighting will continue for some time, people here believe.

Rebel leaders are warning that it could take several days, possibly even a week, to have Tripoli totally in their hands. But it's clear that Moammar Gadhafi is essentially not running this country anymore.

SULLIVAN: And what is NATO's involvement in this?

GARCIA: We've seen NATO aerial bombardments in advance of this push into the capital really sort of pick up the pace over the last few days. And we saw today a very large explosion take place at a base just outside the gates of Tripoli, which allowed the rebels to come in. So certainly, NATO's role in this has been vital.

But I have to emphasize the just real feeling of joy that I'm witnessing here among the rebels. They have paid the price in blood, they say, for this liberation of the capital, Tripoli. This is a civil war that has been going on for six months. There have been heavy casualties on both sides.

SULLIVAN: how to rebuild this country, how to heal the many bloody wounds that both sides have inflicted on each other.

SULLIVAN: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Tripoli, in Libya. Thanks, Lulu, and be safe.

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