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Libyan rebels rejoice after conquering elite barracks
by Staff Writers
Khamis Brigade Barracks, Libya (AFP) Aug 22, 2011

Tens of thousands of libyans celebrate the arrest of Kadhafi's son Saif al-islam and the partial fall of Tripoli in the hands of the Libyan rebels on August 21, 2011 in Benghazi, Libya. Libyan rebels surged into Tripoli Sunday in a final drive to oust Moamer Kadhafi, seizing swathes of the capital including symbolic Green Square and arresting the strongman's son, Seif al-Islam. Thousands of residents poured onto the streets to welcome the rebels, congregating at the site which the renamed Martyrs Square near the water front in the centre of Tripoli. Photo courtesy AFP.

Libyan rebels swarm into the barracks of Moamer Kadhafi's feared Khamis Brigade, rejoicing at the treasure trove of weapons within, sent like a gift from God on their last stop before Tripoli.

The complex's seemingly endless towering grey walls belie the incongruous sun-dappled forest of the military base that lies within, home to the reportedly best-trained and best-equipped brigade of Kadhafi's army.

The celebratory gunfire is deafening as hundreds of rebels fire myriad rounds from small and large calibre weapons, filling the air with the smell of cordite while the gunsmoke highlights the sunbeams cutting through the trees.

"Don't shoot in the air as you come in!" screams one rebel, as if to scold beloved children. "Your bullets will ricochet off the ceiling of the gateway."

"Allahu akbar!" (God is the greatest) the fighters shout, thanking Allah for what he has given them.

Some rebels parade around in a tank, getting the feel for the controls before heading for Tripoli, while others pile pickup trucks high with rockets, mortars and explosives.

Artillery pieces are hooked up to the back of cars and dragged away to the Libyan capital, sparks flying as they bounce along the searingly hot tarmac of the highway that leads to Libya's dreamt-of renaissance after more than four decades of Kadhafi's brutal rule.

It seems strange that the brigade, named after and commanded by Kadhafi's youngest son Khamis, has abandoned its home without much of a fight, and even without using much of its vast catalogue of deadly devices.

While other Libyan units are largely made up of conscripts, and thus liable to desertion, these soldiers are professional.

Either they want to draw the rebels into Tripoli where they have prepared a nasty surprise, or Kadhafi's troops simply have no fight left.

The scorched grass outside the base nevertheless bears testimony to the fighting that preceded the base's capture, although rebels insist they did not meet much resistance.

One freedom fighter initially tries to prevent journalists entering the base, saying that snipers remain within, but he eventually relents.

Moments later, the same journalists flee after hearing the distinctive whistle of bullets being fired horizontally, this time in anger rather than jubilation.

A group of huddled rebels claim they have seized four cases of hi-tech missiles.

"These are heat seeking missiles, they're going to Tripoli and we're going to give them to Kadhafi personally," says rebel Ahmed.

The rebels are confident that they will have the technological know-how to use them when the time comes.

However, an AFP journalist looking at the drab green boxes notices that they are in fact wire-guided Milan anti-tank missiles, very useful in their revolutionary quest, but not the hoped for heat-seekers.

The 27 Kilometre Bridge outside, which like the base is named for the fact that it lies that distance from the very heart of the Libyan capital, straddles the motorway.

Rebels clamber up the structure despite comrades' warnings of snipers. From here they can admire the view of their ultimate target: Tripoli.

China says it 'respects Libyan people's choice'
Beijing (AFP) Aug 22, 2011 - China said Monday it "respects the Libyan people's choice" after rebels in the war-torn North African country entered the capital Tripoli and threatened to topple its leader Moamer Kadhafi.

The foreign ministry's comments came as heavy fighting raged near Kadhafi's Tripoli compound, prompting the United States to say the embattled strongman's regime was at a "tipping point".

"China respects the Libyan people's choice and hopes Libya will return to stability soon and the people will lead a normal life," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement.

"China is willing to work with the international community to play a constructive role in the future reconstruction of Libya."

Chinese economic interests in Libya include oil, railway and telecoms projects, and it has been taking on a more active role recently in the crisis afflicting the major energy producer.

Rebels in Libya staged a lightning strike through Tripoli on Sunday, and fighting continued a day later as pockets of resistance from Kadhafi loyalists remained in the capital.

The whereabouts of Kadhafi were unknown but one of his sons, Seif al-Islam, has been arrested while another, Mohamed Kadhafi, was interviewed by Al-Jazeera television cowering in his house, afraid to leave.

US President Barack Obama said Kadhafi's 42-year autocratic regime was at a "tipping point" and that the "tyrant" must go, calling also on the rebels to respect human rights and move to democracy.

A spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, meanwhile, said the end of the Kadhafi regime was near and called for the strongman to relinquish all power to avoid further bloodshed.

China had initially maintained a policy of non-interference and public neutrality on the conflict in Libya, calling multiple times for a peaceful end to the popular uprising.

But in recent months it has become more involved in the crisis, and Chinese officials have met several times with members of the Libyan opposition's National Transitional Council (NTC).

In June, Beijing recognised Libya's opposition as an "important dialogue partner" after talks in the Chinese capital between Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and senior rebel leader Mahmud Jibril.

China mounted a massive land, sea and air operation to evacuate nearly 36,000 of its nationals -- most of them working in the rail, oil and telecom sectors -- from Libya after fighting first broke out in February.

The West has thrown its diplomatic and financial support behind the NTC, which has been recognised by about a dozen countries including Britain, France and the United States.

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No sign Kadhafi has left Libya: Pentagon
Washington (AFP) Aug 22, 2011 - The Pentagon believes Libya's Moamer Kadhafi has not fled the country, a military spokesman said Monday, as rebel forces swept into the Libyan capital.

It's "probably fair to stay that we believe he's still in the country," spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told reporters.

"We do not have information that he's left the country."

The US military continued to provide support for the NATO-led air campaign over Libya while the situation in Tripoli was "fluid" after rebels overran regime forces, Lapan said.

Kadhafi's exact whereabouts remained unclear, he said.

Kadhafi has not been seen in public for weeks amid speculation the veteran leader was hiding in his compound in Tripoli.

With a possible post-Kadhafi international peacekeeping mission on the horizon, Lapan ruled out the deployment of any US ground troops as part of a UN or NATO ground force.

"There will not be US boots on the ground," he said.

"If there's going to be some type of transitional mission, that remains to be seen, whether it comes out of the UN or NATO.

"But we still do not plan any US forces going on the ground in Libya."

The United States has contributed aircraft mainly for refueling and surveillance flights for the NATO campaign, launched in March, as well as armed Predator drones.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was on vacation in California, had been briefed on events in Tripoli and participated in a teleconference call with President Barack Obama and his advisors Sunday evening, press secretary George Little told reporters.

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