Libya erupts as Qaddafi's compound falls to rebels

The sprawling Bab al-Aziziya – the symbolic heart of Muammar Qaddafi's regime – fell to the Libyan rebels today, sparking wild celebrations in much of Libya.

By , Correspondent , Staff writer

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    Rebel fighters are seen inside Muammar Qaddafi's main military compound in Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli, Libya, Tuesday, Aug. 23. Libyan rebels stormed Qaddafi's compound Tuesday after fierce fighting with forces loyal to his regime that rocked the capital as the longtime leader refused to surrender despite the stunning advances by opposition forces.
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    Libyan rebels break their Ramadan fast at a checkpoint in the Bab El Bahrah district in Tripoli, Tuesday. Hundreds of Libyan rebels blasted through the green gates of Muammar Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli Tuesday after five hours of intense fighting around it.
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In 24 hours, Muammar Qaddafi has lost the two symbols of his regime. Green Square, where he was fond of delivering rambling harangues against his domestic opponents and foreign antagonists like the US, is now being called Martyrs' Square. Bab al-Azizya, the gated residential and military district that acted as the nerve center for his regime, has been largely overrun.

Al Jazeera has been carrying hours of live footage of ecstatic Libyans stomping on a gold head of Qaddafi ripped from a monument to himself at the compound, driving their cars in circles over a massive Qaddafi-era flag in Green Square, and taking gold-plated AK-47s and other items from his compound. Sky News interviewed a man wearing a rope-thick gold chain and Qaddafi's generalissimo cap outside one of his homes. The man said he'd taken them from Qaddafi's bedroom.

Where's Qaddafi? It's anybody's guess at the moment. But for the millions of Libyans who have backed an uprising that began as a demonstration against the arrests of human rights lawyers in Benghazi on Feb. 15 and evolved into an armed, national movement to end 40 years of one-man rule, today was the day of victory. There is almost certainly some fighting ahead, and the challenges to building a new Libya – from tribal rivalries to a damaged economy to the absence of any meaningful institutions to build on – remain great.

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Some fighting continued inside the compound – which covers about four square miles – into the evening, with constant sounds of gunfire and occasional larger booms from mortars, according to Reuters. During Libya's almost six-month civil war, Qaddafi's forces have frequently adopted civilian clothes and hid in homes in towns being overrun, so the potential remains for further major engagements in Tripoli.

But the rebels and their supporters aren't letting that dampen their euphoria tonight. In Benghazi, an eastern city where the National Transitional Council is based, legions poured into the streets when they heard the Bab al-Aziziya had fallen.

Men fired rifles into the air and threw hand grenades in the street in celebration. Cars sped through the streets, honking, with men hanging out and waving flags. Young men hung out of a pickup truck, chanting to Qaddafi, "you can't hide in an alley, you can't hide in a wardrobe, we're everywhere and we're coming after you" in a riff on one of Qaddafi's speeches.

Others, making fun of the speech in which he said he would find and kill the rebels "beit beit, zenga zenga" (house by house, alley by alley), chanted "house by house, wardrobe by wardrobe" – a threat that they will not let a dictator who's also something of a clothes-horse go free.

In Tripoli, the scenes at Bab al-Aziziya were reminiscent of the way Iraqis poured through Saddam Hussein's palaces after he was defeated in 2003, or how Filipinos poured through Ferdinand Marcos's Malacanang palace after their people-power revolution succeeded in 1989.

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Sky News interviewing a Libya rebel militiaman wearing Qaddafi's hat.

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