Diplomat: Rebels control 95 percent of Tripoli
Gadhafi's former right-hand man, who defected last week to Italy, said the longtime leader would not go easily.
"I think it's impossible that he'll surrender," Abdel-Salam Jalloud said in an interview broadcast on Italian RAI state radio, adding that "He doesn't have the courage, like Hitler, to kill himself."
Jalloud, who was Gadhafi's closest aide for decades before falling out with the leader in the 1990s, fled Tripoli on Friday, according to rebels.
The startling rebel breakthrough, after a long deadlock in Libya's 6-month-old civil war, was the culmination of a closely coordinated plan by rebels, NATO and anti-Gadhafi residents inside Tripoli, rebel leaders said. Rebel fighters from the west swept over 20 miles (30 kilometers) in a matter of hours Sunday, taking town after town and overwhelming a major military base as residents poured out to cheer them. At the same time, Tripoli residents secretly armed by rebels rose up.
When rebels reached the gates of Tripoli, the special battalion entrusted by Gadhafi with guarding the capital promptly surrendered. The reason: Its commander, whose brother had been executed by Gadhafi years ago, was secretly loyal to the rebellion, a senior rebel official, Fathi al-Baja, told The Associated Press.
On Monday, rebels erected checkpoints on the western approaches to the city, handing out candy to passengers and inquiring about their destination. Cars leaving the city were subjected to more rigorous checks.
President Barack Obama said Libya is "slipping from the grasp of a tyrant" and urged Gadhafi to relinquish power to prevent more bloodshed.
"The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people," Obama said in a statement from Martha's Vineyard, where he's vacationing. He promised to work closely with rebels.
South Africa, which led failed African Union efforts to mediate between the rebels and Gadhafi, refused to offer support to the rebels on Monday, saying it wants to see a unity government put in place as a transitional authority.
The uprising against Gadhafi broke out in mid-February, inspired by successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, Libya's neighbors to the east and west respectively. A brutal regime crackdown quickly transformed the protests into an armed rebellion. Rebels seized Libya's east, setting up an internationally recognized transitional government there, and two pockets in the west, the port city of Misrata and the Nafusa mountain range.
Gadhafi clung to the remaining territory, and for months neither side had been able to break the other.
In early August, however, rebels launched an offensive from the Nafusa Mountains, then fought their way down to the Mediterranean coastal plain, backed by NATO airstrikes, and captured the strategic city of Zawiya.
Gadhafi is the Arab world's longest-ruling, most erratic, most grimly fascinating leader — presiding over this North African desert nation with vast oil reserves and just 6 million people.
For years, he was an international pariah blamed for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. After years of denial, Gadhafi's Libya acknowledged responsibility, agreed to pay up to $10 million to relatives of each victim, and the Libyan rule declared he would dismantle his weapons of mass destruction program. That eased him back into the international community.
Would you like to contribute to this story? Join the discussion.