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Libya rebels solidify hold on Tripoli amid discoveries of bodies

With Tripoli apparently subdued, attention turns to the coastal city of Surt, Moammar Kadafi's hometown and last major stronghold of support. Bodies are found at several sites in Tripoli.

August 28, 2011|By Patrick J. McDonnell and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
  • In Tripoli, the capital of Libya, bullet cartridges litter the ground in downtown Green Square. Rebels on Saturday continued to consolidate their control of the city.
In Tripoli, the capital of Libya, bullet cartridges litter the ground in… (Yousef Boudlal, Reuters )

Reporting from Tripoli, Libya — Libyan rebel forces consolidated their control of Tripoli on Saturday, even as the discovery of bodies at several sites raised concern about possible summary killings during the fierce battle for Moammar Kadafi's capital.

Gun trucks patrolling the streets met little resistance, even when cruising the main thoroughfare of Abu Salim, a bastion of support for Kadafi and site of fierce battles days earlier.

The capital's airport and water plant, scenes of recent clashes, were quiet. In addition, rebels appeared to have strengthened their hold on the crucial coastal road between Tripoli and the Tunisian border crossing in Ras Ajdir.

Photos: The Libyan conflict

The last enclave in greater Tripoli to fall to the rebels appeared to be Qasr bin Ghashir, which they took early Saturday. Residents of the town on Tripoli's rural outskirts gathered in a central square as rebel fighters opened fire with automatic weapons and large-caliber truck-mounted guns in celebration.

"Today Tripoli is fully liberated," said one rebel fighter.

There still was no word on the whereabouts of Kadafi, the nation's ruler for more than four decades.

With the capital apparently subdued, attention was turning to the coastal city of Surt, Kadafi's hometown and last major stronghold of support.

Rebel leaders have said they are trying to negotiate a surrender. Insurgents were advancing on the city, on the Mediterranean coast about 225 miles east of Tripoli, and threatened to take it by force if no peaceful solution was found.

Even as the fighting here in the capital subsided, Tripoli lacked a functioning government and remained on edge. The city faces severe shortages of electricity, running water and gasoline. An acrid stench fouls the air, the result of long-uncollected trash and fires set to burn the refuse. Many residents have voiced convern that it could take a long time for things to return to normal.

Reports of the discovery of bodies in various areas of the capital have raised questions about the actions of both sides during the intense street fighting of recent days.

Britain's Sky News reported that more than 50 bodies had been found in a burned-out warehouse, possible victims of execution as urban battles raged.

Days earlier, the bodies of a number of black people turned up on a traffic circle outside Kadafi's Bab Azizia compound. The site had been a tent city where a group of Kadafi supporters, mostly sub-Saharan Africans, had been staying for weeks in solidarity with Libya's longtime leader. They often held pro-Kadafi rallies.

The rebel leadership has urged its forces not to carry out revenge killings. Rebels have accused government forces of going on a killing rampage as the battle for Tripoli unfolded.

At one hospital in the Abu Salim neighborhood, several bodies were putrefying on gurneys at the front entrance. More decomposing bodies were inside the facility. Surgical gloves and masks littered the lawn.

All the dead there were believed to have been victims of recent fighting, said volunteers helping to clean up the hospital and arrange for burials. But it was unclear whether the victims were mostly civilians or fighters.

The hospital staff reportedly abandoned the facility during the combat. It also could not be determined whether wounded patients had been left to die or whether any effort had been made to evacuate them.

There has been no official tally of the number of people killed during the rebels' fight to take Tripoli. Both sides say the 6-month-old conflict has cost thousands of lives across the nation.

Photos: The Libyan conflict

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

daragahi@latimes.com

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