The Fight for Libya

Rebel fighters in Libya appear close to toppling Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule

Aug 22, 2011 | By Brenda Iasevoli with reporting by Vivienne Walt for TIME
ESAM AL-FETORI—REUTERS

After six months of uprising, Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule over Libya appears to be close to an end. Fierce fighting broke out overnight between Gaddafi’s supporters and thousands of rebel fighters in Tripoli, the country’s capital. Mahmud Nacua, the rebels’ ambassador to London, told reporters on Monday morning that rebel forces now control 95% of the city. They are currently searching Tripoli for Gaddafi.

“The fighters will turn over every stone to find him and to put him in court,” said Nacua. “We will do our best to handle everything in a peaceful way.”

A Cry for Freedom

Inspired by other Arab revolutions, Libyans called for Gaddafi’s resignation and for a democratic government back in February. But Gaddafi, who ruled the North African country with an iron fist, refused to step down. Libya’s weak economy is contributing to the unrest. Little of the country’s oil wealth reaches the people, and unemployment is high.

Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years.
AHMED JADALLAH—REUTERS
Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years.

Demonstrations broke out in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, on February 15. Five days later, the protestors had seized control of Benghazi. Protests spread to several eastern cities, including Tripoli. Many soldiers joined the demonstrations. Gaddafi’s security forces responded with deadly attacks against the unarmed protesters.

On March 17, the United Nations Security Council authorized the use of “all necessary means” to protect civilians. NATO, an alliance of 28 nations from North America and Europe, is also playing a role. On March 19, NATO began air strikes against Gaddafi and his supporters. Four days later, NATO ships and submarines were patrolling the seas near Libya. The assistance gave the rebel fighters a major advantage in the conflict.

Democracy at Hand

The rebel campaign advanced quickly on Friday, when fighters seized the oil-refinery city of Zawiyah, just 28 miles from Tripoli. This left Gaddafi and his supporters with no reliable source of fuel. As rebel forces surged into Tripoli on August 21, they met little resistance from Gaddafi supporters.

“Our fighters are coming from all directions and, God willing, today we will liberate the whole city,” rebel commander Suleiman Sifaw told the Associated Press.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on CNN last Sunday night that Libya’s new government will need help making the transition to a democracy. “It is for the United Nations and the contact group to negotiate a political solution to this conflict,” she said.