After six months of civil war, Libyan rebels swept into Tripoli on Sunday and laid claim to most of the city. Government troops and snipers loyal to Moammar Gadhafi continued to put up a last-ditch resistance near his compound, though it is unknown if the Libyan leader was still inside.

The arrival of the rebels in the Green Square, the symbolic heart of the Gadhafi regime, prompted thousands of jubilant civilians to rush into the streets and celebrate. Supporters of the opposition movement tore down the green Islamic flags of the government and raised the rebel tricolor last used by the post-colonial monarchy which Gadhafi overthrew in a military coup in 1969. Others fired shots into the air and blasted holes in posters featuring Gadhafi’s image. TV footage showed many Libyans kissing the ground, thanking god and expressing gratitude for a “blessed day.”

The rebels also captured two of Gadhafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam and Mohammed, and freed hundreds of people imprisoned for defying the Libyan leader’s will. In response to the invasion, Gadhafi broadcast a series of defiant audio messages on state television, calling for his supporters to take to the streets and demonstrate against an impending occupation. Few heeded his suggestion.

Gadhafi’s violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators has divided the country and earned the condemnation of the international community. In March, a NATO-led air campaign, dubbed Unified Protector, was launched to enforce a UN no-fly zone, maintain an arms embargo and protect civilians from government attacks. Three months later, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Gadhafi, Saif al-Islam and security and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi for war crimes.

The startling turn of events was the culmination of a coordinated plan by the opposition, NATO and anti-Gadhafi residents inside Tripoli. NATO forces will continue its combat air patrols over Libya until all pro-Gadhafi forces surrender or return to barracks, officials said.

Leaders all over the globe called on Gadhafi to relinquish power and turn himself in to the International Criminal Court. Gadhafi should “avoid inflicting any more unnecessary suffering on his people by renouncing without delay what is left of his power and by immediately ordering the forces that are still loyal to him to cease fire,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

President Barack Obama concurred: “The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people.”

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