Rebels force Libyan state TV off the air after storming HQ as loyalist forces stage defiant last stand

Libyan state TV went off air today as rebels armed with AK47s stormed the country’s broadcaster and Colonel Gaddafi cowered in hiding.

Rebels said that they ambushed the concrete building in Tripoli and killed the soldiers that had been guarding it.

It was one of the most significant gains on a joyous but ultimately frustrating day for the rebels as they were unable to claim total victory over their dictator of 42 years.

The station has been used to broadcast propaganda messages from Gaddafi since the unrest began on February 17 and the loss of the station is a major blow for the leader.

‘The revolutionaries stormed the television building … after killing the soldiers surrounding it. It is now under their control,’ the spokesman said. He was speaking after television screens airing the Jamahiriyah station went blank.

The BBC Monitoring service confirmed that TV screens across the country had gone blank earlier this afternoon.

The development came as Gaddafi went into hiding after rebels seized control of almost all of Tripoli last night in the most successful 24 hours of the entire conflict.

Heavy gunfire continues to echo across the city after the encircled Libyan leader’s die-hard loyalists launched a final counter-attack.

Government tanks emerged from the complex, known as Bab al-Aziziya, and began firing shortly after dawn following an assault by rebels.

Residents said that fighters had attempted to scale the walls of Gaddafi’s compound but were met by a wall of gunfire. The Libyan leader still controls the Rixos area in the south west of Tripoli and mercenaries are continuing to fight for him. His youngest son, Khamis al-Gaddafi, is understood to be spearheading a fightback.

In the most decisive 24 hours since the conflict began, rebels now look to close to seizing control of the North African country.

Rebels claim that they now control some 95 per cent of Tripoli despite a fightback by Gaddafi troops after four hours of calm. They said that around 1,300 people have been killed in Tripoli.

Nouri Echtiwi, a rebel spokesman, said: ‘Four hours of calm followed the street celebrations. Then tanks and pick-up trucks with heavy machine guns mounted on the back came out of Bab al-Aziziya, the last of Gadhafi’s bastions, and started firing and shelling Assarin Street and al-Khalifa area. They fired randomly in all directions whenever they heard gunfire.’

Sources said that shelling could be heard behind the Bab al-Azizya compound and that the rebels  were ‘in a weaker position’ due to the heavier weapons being used by pro-Gaddafi forces.

Nato aircraft have been heard over Tripoli but as yet they have not launched airstrikes and could be carrying out surveillance work.

Gun battles were raging in the Gargaresh district of Tripoli where government snipers could be seen on the streets. Snipers were also positioned on the main road through Madinat Seyahiyah. Rebels began firing back with AK47s and RPGs.

They are beginning to prepare for an assault on Green Square using jeeps mounted with rocket launchers. It also emerged today that rebels have reinstated Libya’s internet and phone connections while closing down the state broadcaster.

The rebels have been securing key government buildings in the city and telling residents to stay inside while offering them immunity if they surrender their weapons. Supportive residents were handing out milk and water to the rebels.

Convoys of families on roads are reported to be travelling from around the country towards to Tripoli  to join in the celebrations. The mood in the capital was the most buyout yet, as residents waved flags and sounded their car horns today.

Elsewhere in Libya, there were clashes between rebels and pro-Gaddafi mercenaries near al-Hani area while more artillery had been captured from an airbase.

The Libyan leader was believed to be cowering in a bunker outside Tripoli, as heavy fighting erupted around his compound and wild celebrations broke out across the country among opposition supporters cheering on the rebels.

As the dictator’s regime appeared to be on the brink of collapse following 46 Nato airstrikes yesterday, independent Libyan television claimed the tyrant had ‘run away like a coward’.

Gaddafi’s former right-hand man Abdel-Salam Jalloud said that the leader was ‘not brave enough to do a Hitler’ and kill himself.

‘I think it’s impossible that he’ll surrender,’ Jalloud told Italian television. ‘He is not like Hitler, who had the courage to kill himself.’

Jalloud became the latest defector when he fled Tripoli for Tunisia on Friday and turned up in Rome.
He said that his former colleague has ’10 days at most’ left in power.

‘I don’t think the evolution of the situation in Tripoli will allow him to survive. I believe the regime has a week left, 10 days at most. And maybe even less.

‘He has no way of leaving Tripoli. All the roads are blocked. He can only leave with an international agreement and I think that door is closed.’

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the Libyan rebel council, said today: ‘We are on the threshold of a new era … of a new stage that we will work to establish the principles that this revolution was based on. Which are: freedom, democracy, justice, equality and transparency. Within a moderate Islamic framework.

‘During the last few days the revolutunaries in Tripoli have really proved that they are the revolutionaries of the capital. And that the calls for Tripoli to be our capital were rightful calls.

‘Muammar Gaddafi will be remembered and his period of rule through the acts that he committed against the rebels and the world. From political assassinations, arrests and mind games. And oppressing all the efforts of the Libyan people to oust him since the first year of his revolution. There were many, many attempts to oust Gaddafi. The Libyan people never submitted to Gaddafi, since the first year of the revolution..or, rather, since the first year of the coup.

‘But God has chosen that Gaddafi’s end should be at the hands of these youths, so that they can join the Arab Spring that is going around the Arab nations.

‘And now I say with all transparency that the era of Gaddafi is over.’

The dictator could be offered exile by the African Union in Angola or Zimbabwe as his representatives have been in talks with South African officials, according to the news channel Al-Jazeera.

Meanwhile, three of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons are reported to be in the hands of Libyan rebels.

The head of Libya’s National Transitional Council, the rebels’ governing body, said they had arrested Saif al-Islam and Al-Saadi, two of the tyrant’s sons. A third, Muhammad, was reported to have handed  himself in.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil told Al-Jazeera: ‘He (Saif) is being kept in a secure place under close guard until he is handed over to the judiciary.’

And he insisted Saif would not be harmed, telling French newspaper Le Monde: ‘We gave instructions that he is well treated, in order to be judged.’

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi once had a very close relationship with the West and was considered by many to represent a more democratic future for Libya.

But since the uprising began he has become closely allied to his father. The International Criminal Court has a warrant out for his arrest on war crimes charges.

The ICC said that it is also seeking the transfer of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity.

‘The court as a whole is involved,’ Fadi El-Abdallah said. He added that discussions were underway with the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council NTC over a transfer of Saif.

Gaddafi’s oldest son, Muhammad, ran the company which operated all mobile phones and satellites in the country, as well as being head of the Libyan Olympic Committee.

Al-Saadi, took a far more hands-on role in his father’s regime, as commander of Libya’s Special Forces. He has been accused of ordering the army to fire on unarmed protesters in Benghazi at the start of the uprising.

As wild celebrations erupted across Libya to mark Gaddafi’s apparent departure, the country’s embassies around the world came under attack.

In Greece, the Libyan embassy was ransacked, with portraits of Muammar Gaddafi defaced and torn down while in Kuwait the Libyan flag was burned.

There were reports that the dictator, who has been in power for 42 murderous years, was actually moving around a series of bomb-proof bunkers and tunnels beneath the capital.

And even as he was supposed to have taken refuge within the complex – which is reputed to be able to withstand a nuclear attack – the dictator broadcast a message as his troops prepared to mount a last stand.

Gaddafi’s official spokesman had previously lashed out against Britain, France and the U.S. – the three countries leading the campaign to oust the dictator – as he warned of a ‘ghastly disaster’ if rebel forces took Tripoli.

Earlier in the day, sources inside the embattled city said pro-Gaddafi forces had put snipers on the rooftops of buildings around Bab al-Aziziyah, Gaddafi’s secret compound, and on the top of a nearby water tower.

His bunker complex is the stuff of Libyan folklore. Tunnels are said to connect vast, cavernous rooms capable of housing tanks, aircraft and weapons.

He also has sleeping quarters in different parts of the complex.

An insight into his desire to seek refuge underground emerged when rebel forces seized control of Benghazi, the country’s second city, in March.

They discovered a series of tunnels and rooms built more than 100 yards below the earth.

But the Tripoli complex is far grander, and some defectors claim there are even tunnels running for hundreds of miles from Gaddafi’s bunker to the south of the country – a possible escape route.

At the start of the uprising, Gaddafi ordered a children’s playground to be built around the secret entrances to the bunker, hoping this would deter targeted Nato airstrikes.

And Nato sources warned the shifting battle lines and the movement of the fighting into built-up areas in Tripoli had made it more difficult to engage airstrikes without endangering civilians.

Downing Street said last night that ‘the end is near’ for Colonel Gaddafi and called on the Libyan leader to go to avoid more suffering for his people.

Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his holiday in Cornwall to return for talks on the crumbling regime.

He will chair a meeting of the National Security Council on Libya (NSC-L) later today.

David Cameron said this morning that the Libyan ‘regime is falling apart and that Gaddafi is in full retreat’.

He added that there was ‘no room for complacency’ and said that there was ‘still lots of work to be done’ in the country.

‘Gaddafi must stop fighting without any cause and show that he has given up and control of Libya.

‘We must do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people. This will be and must be a Libyan lead and Libyan owned process.’

Asked if he felt he was right to commit troops to Libya, Mr Cameron said: ‘There is no room for complacency. There is still much more to be done. This is about them, it’s not about us.’

A spokesman added: ‘Gaddafi has committed appalling crimes against the people of Libya and he must go now to avoid any further suffering for his own people.’

French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the first time invited a Libyan rebel leader to visit Paris on Wednesday, and called on forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi to surrender and support the transition in Libya.

Sarkozy spoke with Mahmud Jibril, from the Libyan rebel-led National Transitional Committee and invited Jibril to visit France the following Wednesday, according to a statement issued by the Elysee Palace.

‘As the developments of the military situation on the ground and defections that multiply in his camp confirmed that the end of Gaddafi and his son’s regime is now inevitable and near, the president of the Republic condemns in the strongest terms the irresponsible and desperate calls of Colonel Gaddafi to continue fighting at all costs,’ the statement said.

In a statement, President Obama said Libya is ‘slipping from the grasp of a tyrant’ as the battle between rebels and Gaddafi has reached a ‘tipping point’.

Mr Obama, who is on holiday in Martha’s Vineyard, said the surest way for the bloodshed to end is for the Libyan leader to relinquish power.

He said: ‘The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people.

‘Gaddafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all.’

The president promised to work in close co-ordination with the rebels and said the US will ‘continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected’.

The statement was issued after Mr Obama took part in a conference call with his national security team.

The YouTube video below shows Libyans celebrating in front of the White House in Washington D.C.