TRIPOLI, Libya — Libyan rebels raced into Tripoli Sunday and met little resistance as Moammar Gadhafi's defenders melted away and his 42-year rule rapidly crumbled. The euphoric fighters celebrated with residents of the capital in Green Square, the symbolic heart of the fading regime.
Gadhafi's whereabouts were unknown, though state TV broadcast his bitter pleas for Libyans to defend his regime. Opposition fighters captured his son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, who along with his father faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. Another son was in contact with rebels about surrendering, the opposition said.
"It's over, frizz-head," chanted hundreds of jubilant men and women massed in Green Square, using a mocking nickname of the curly-haired Gadhafi. The revelers fired shots in the air, clapped and waved the rebels' tricolor flag. Some set fire to the green flag of Gadhafi's regime and shot holes in a poster with the leader's image.
By the early hours of Monday, rebels controlled large parts of the capital. They set up checkpoints alongside residents — many of them secretly armed by rebel smugglers in recent weeks. But pockets of pro-Gadhafi fighters remained: In one area, Associated Press reporters with the rebels were stopped and told to take a different route because of regime snipers nearby.
"We were waiting for the signal and it happened," said Nour Eddin Shatouni, a 50-year-old engineer who was among the residents who flowed out of their homes to join the celebrations. "All mosques chanted 'God is great' all at once. We smelled a good scent, it is the smell of victory. We know it is the time."
The seizure of Green Square held profound symbolic value and marked a stunning turn in the tide of the 6-month-old Libyan civil war. The regime has held pro-Gadhafi rallies there nearly every night since the revolt began in February, and Gadhafi delivered speeches to his loyalists from the historic Red Fort that overlooks the square.
The sweep into the capital came after the rebel fighters advanced 20 miles from the west in a matter of hours. They took town after town and overwhelmed a major military base meant to defend Tripoli, 16 miles from the city. All the way, they met little resistance and residents poured out on the streets to welcome them.
In a series of angry and defiant audio messages broadcast on state television, Gadhafi called on his supporters to march in the streets of the capital and "purify it" of "the rats." He was not shown in the messages
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