Author: David Kirkpatrick | New York Times | AFP | August 21, 2011
Women in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi rally to celebrate the
six-month anniversary of the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi,
whose forces have been pushed back to Tripoli. Photo: AP
Six months after the outbreak of the revolt against his 42 years in power, Muammar Gaddafi's hold on his Tripoli stronghold shows signs of slipping.
Tripoli residents, who for months hesitated to talk openly over the phone, said they believed Colonel Gaddafi's flight or ouster could be imminent. Some said the feeling of fear was ebbing in the streets.
''It is much quieter today than yesterday and the day before,'' said one resident, still not willing to reveal his name. ''The situation is getting really tough now.''
With unexpected swiftness, the ill-trained and ill-equipped rebels from the western mountains last week overtook much of the strategic coastal town of Zawiyah, with its enormous oil refinery, just 50 kilometres west of Tripoli, the country's capital.
By early yesterday, they had also taken Gharyan, an important outpost along the trade route to the south. Government troops had concentrated in both towns, and their retreat in the face of the amateurish rebels raised new doubts about the loyalist forces' will and cohesion.
As a result of those victories, most of the main roads that had supplied Tripoli have been closed. Residents, accustomed to soaring food prices, weeklong waits for petrol and long electrical blackouts, say they are now coping with a crime wave and uncollected garbage.
Many, fearing a bloody fight for the capital, are trying to flee. Rebels said that among them was Abdel Salam Jalloud, a leading figure in the 1969 revolution that brought Colonel Gaddafi to power. If confirmed, his would be the second high-profile defection in five days.
Rebel television channel Libya Awalam quoted Mr Jalloud on its news ticker as saying: ''Gaddafi's regime is finished.''
Mr Jalloud was a member of the hard core of officers who grabbed power with Colonel Gaddafi and was long considered the regime's second-in-command before being gradually sidelined in the 1990s. He was prime minister from 1972 to 1977.
This is by no means the first time the rebels have seemed to have Colonel Gaddafi on the ropes.
At the beginning of the popular uprising, Tripoli and most other cities in the country rose up against Colonel Gaddafi, before his militias reasserted control in the west and NATO stepped in to defend the rebel-held east.
As the fighting draws closer to Tripoli, residents are feeling the pressure. For the first time, they say, they cannot easily leave the city. Hundreds have clogged narrow back roads as they try to flee to the relative safety of the rebel-held mountains to the south.
That the mountains would beckon as a refuge is a measure of their fear, since conditions there are often hardly comfortable. Electricity and many supplies are still scarce, and some towns are deserted.
With the rebels pushing closer to Tripoli, vowing to take it before the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan ends in late August, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini urged the population of the capital to rise up against Colonel Gaddafi.
''We hope the people of Tripoli, who unfortunately are already fleeing, understand the regime has harmed its own people and will therefore join a process of political change to cut off room for manoeuvre for Gaddafi's regime,'' he said.
The International Organisation for Migration said it was drawing up plans for the evacuation of thousands of migrants stranded in Tripoli because exit points had been cut off following the rebel successes.