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Rebels tighten their hold on Libyan capital

Whereabouts unknown, Gadhafi vows a fight to the finish

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Libyan rebels struggled to consolidate their gains Wednesday as fighters loyal to Moammar Gadhafi mounted fierce resistance in parts of Tripoli and in a few remaining strongholds across the battered North African nation.

Col. Gadhafi, whose whereabouts remain unknown, appeared on a satellite television station, vowing to fight to the finish.

In New York, the United States called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to free up $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets for the rebel provisional government, the National Transitional Council.

Earlier Wednesday in Tripoli, about three dozen foreign journalists detained for almost a week at the Rixos Hotel walked free after Gadhafi loyalists allowed them to leave the luxury high-rise.

"We have been holed up together for what seems like an eternity. We could finally get our freedom," CNN’s Matthew Chance, who was among those detained in the hotel, announced on Twitter.

Moments later he tweeted: "Rixos crisis ends. All journalists are out!"

The situation at the Rixos changed overnight, as rebels overran Col. Gadhafi's nearby military compound, Bab al-Azizia, in Tripoli on Tuesday. They ransacked the compound where the dictator, his family and the inner circle of the regime stayed but found no sign of any of them.

On Wednesday, the Gadhafi troops allowed representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross to escort the journalists out of the hotel.

Gadhafi loyalists still control the Abu Saleem neighborhood near the Rixos Hotel and the airport road.

The regime’s forces also hold large tracts of farmland in the Khala area of south Tripoli, where some Libyans believe Col. Gadhafi may be hiding.

Col. Gadhafi’s tribal stronghold of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and the southern city of Sebha also remain in the hands of loyalist forces.

In Tripoli, residents reported regular gun battles in the streets and said some parts of the city were still not in the control of the rebels.

A defiant Col. Gadhafi declared on a Syrian-based satellite station that he will fight on to "victory or martyrdom" and called on residents of Tripoli and tribesmen across Libya to free the capital from the "devils and traitors" who have overrun it.

Rowaida Ibrahim, a Tripoli resident, told The Washington Times in a phone interview that the media must stop broadcasting Col. Gadhafi’s messages.

"We are afraid he is sending coded messages to his supporters," she said.

Many Tripoli residents, however, said they were confident that the regime is in its final hours and that their city soon would be secure.

Some, like Hana, who only gave her first name, celebrated at Green Square, the city’s main plaza that the rebels renamed Martyrs' Square.

"Most of the neighborhoods are controlled by rebels and are safe," she said.

Tripoli is still facing severe shortages of fuel and food. Hospitals are overflowing with gunshot victims, and doctors say they lack adequate medical supplies.

On Wednesday, the city was abuzz with rumors that Gadhafi loyalists had poisoned the water supply. Residents were relying on bottled water.

Meanwhile, the rebels received another diplomatic boost Wednesday when the African nations of Chad and Burkina Faso recognized the rebel council as the legitimate government of Libya.

The leaders of both countries had been close allies of Col. Gadhafi and had received money and training from his regime.

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