In the city’s central Green Square, the site of many manufactured rallies in support of Colonel Qaddafi, jubilant Libyans tore down posters of him and stomped on them. The rebel leadership announced that the elite presidential guard protecting the Libyan leader had surrendered and that their forces controlled many parts of the city, but not Colonel Qaddafi’s leadership compound.
The National Transitional Council, the rebel governing body, issued a mass text message saying: “We congratulate the Libyan people for the fall of Muammar Qaddafi and call on the Libyan people to go into the street to protect the public property. Long live free Libya.”
Officials loyal to Colonel Qaddafi insisted that the fight was not over, and there were clashes between rebels and government troops early on Monday morning. Explosions and the sound of mortars could still be heard Monday morning. But NATO and American officials said that the Qaddafi government’s control of Tripoli, which had been its final stronghold, was now in doubt.
President Obama said Sunday night that Colonel Qaddafi and his inner circle had “to recognize that their rule has come to an end” and called on Colonel Qaddafi “to relinquish power once and for all.” He also called on the National Transitional Council to avoid civilian casualties and protect state institutions as it took control of the country.
“Tonight, the momentum against the Qaddafi regime has reached a tipping point,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Qaddafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.”
The shocking collapse of the Qaddafi forces appeared to signal the end for one of the world’s most flamboyant and mercurial political figures, the leader of an idiosyncratic government that was frequently as bizarre as it was brutal.
Long a thorn in the side of the West, Colonel Qaddafi had managed an awkward reconciliation in recent years, abandoning his fledgling nuclear program and paying billions of dollars to the victims of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, which was attributed to Libyan agents.
While denying that he actually headed the government, Colonel Qaddafi created a cult of personality that centered on his Green Book, a volume both trivial and impenetrable. His decades of iron-fisted rule have produced a country, analysts say, which is devoid of credible institutions and any semblance of a civil society — a potential source of trouble in the months and years ahead.
After six months of inconclusive fighting, the assault on the capital unfolded at a breakneck pace, with insurgents capturing a base of the vaunted Khamis Brigade, where they had expected to meet resistance, then speeding toward Tripoli and through several neighborhoods of the capital effectively unopposed.
A separate group of rebels waged a fierce battle near the Rixos Hotel, a bastion of Qaddafi support near the city center. A team of rebels there captured Colonel Qaddafi’s son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam. Rebels also claimed to have accepted the surrender of a second Qaddafi son, Mohammed.
Rebel spokesmen said that their fighters had surrounded the Bab al-Aziziya compound where they believed Colonel Qaddafi might still be holding out, but that they were reluctant to begin an all-out assault.
Colonel Qaddafi issued a series of defiant audio statements during the night, calling on people to “save Tripoli” from a rebel offensive. He said Libyans were becoming “slaves of the imperialists” and that “all the tribes are now marching on Tripoli.”
Mahmoud Hamza, a senior official of the Qaddafi Foreign Ministry, acknowledged in a phone call at 1 a.m. local time on Monday that “it is getting near the end now.” But he said that the Qaddafi forces had not given up.