Tripoli calmer as Gadhafi's men pushed out

August 27, 2011 - 5:10 AM
APTOPIX Mideast Libya

A rebel fighter seen at the checkpoint near the Tripoli International Airport outside Tripoli, LIbya, Friday, Aug. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

TRIPOLI (AP) — Fuel is scarce in Libya's capital after days of fighting that sent Moammar Gadhafi underground, but that didn't stop residents from using gas to set fire to a giant portrait of the toppled leader on Saturday.

The burning billboard near Gadhafi's Bab al-Azizya compound, the heart of his regime seized by rebels on Tuesday, was just part of the celebrations. But for all the joy, Libya's capital is smoldering and fearful, and attention is turning to whether anti-Gadhafi forces can consolidate control, bring order and show they can not only topple a dictatorship, but build a democracy.

Gadhafi's whereabouts, meanwhile, remain unknown. NATO and rebel fighters are focusing on his hometown of Sirte, his last major bastion of support. And Tripoli itself is not entirely calm — explosions were heard overnight and Saturday saw reports of bombing at Tripoli's airport.

Much of the capital was without electricity and water. Streets are strewn with torched cars and stinking garbage. Corpses crowd abandoned hospitals. Stores are closed. Bombed planes sit on the Tripoli's airport runway.

"We have a huge shortage of gas," Tripoli resident Osama Shallouf said.

The shortages have made it difficult to bake the traditional pastries and buy new clothes to prepare for next week's Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that caps the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Shallouf said.

"People will start celebrating when Gadhafi is caught," he said. "That will be our Eid."

Rebel leaders said Friday they'll establish a new interim government in the capital within 30 days, moving their headquarters from the eastern city of Benghazi, which fell into opposition hands early in the six-month civil war.

Mahmoud Jibril, the head of Libya's rebel National Transitional Council, said Friday the interim government needs about $5 billion in frozen assets to pay state salaries and maintain essential services, including the army and police force.

A British official, who would only discuss the details on condition of anonymity, said Friday his government hopes to release about 1 billion pounds worth ($1.6 billion) of Libyan dinars printed in the U.K. to help the rebels. In March, Britain blocked the export of the bank notes, manufactured by a British currency printer.

The United States won approval on Thursday to release $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets held in American banks. And U.N. diplomats are working on lifting a freeze on tens of billions of dollars for Libya.

The rebels' information minister, Mahmoud Shamman, has said some who worked in the Gadhafi regime, but were sympathetic to the rebels, will be welcome in the interim government, which could make the transition smoother.

"The only people we are going to exclude are the people who killed others and stole money," Shammam said.

Healing rifts won't be easy.

In the parking lot of an abandoned, bombed out fire station in Tripoli, Associated Press reporters say rebels guarding four injured men they said were Gadhafi loyalists. Eventually, a rebel agreed to take as many wounded as he could fit in his pickup truck to a hospital, but was stopped repeatedly at checkpoints, where some kicked the prisoners, spat on them and tried to stop their transfer to the hospital.

Mohammed al-Egely, the rebels' justice minister, said he has visited detained Gadhafi fighters and that they were being treated according to international humanitarian law. He said the rebels are doing the best they can under the circumstances.

"We are in a state of war — the airport hasn't even been liberated yet," he said. "Do you expect the fighters to bring them (prisoners) flowers? They are all fighting — and so there will be victims from each side."

International organizations have expressed concern about treatment of detainees on both sides.