About a hundred Libyans gathered outside the White House to celebrate the rebel takeover of Tripoli, waving the country’s flag and chanting “Libya is free!”, “Thank you, Sarkozy!” and “Thank you, Obama!”
Rania Swadek, a 33-year-old Libyan-American who teaches English literature at Washington, waved a sign showing the red-black-and-green rebel flag with the words: “Thank you, NATO! Thank you, Obama!”
“Tonight for the first time in our lives we are very proud to be Libyan,” Swadek told AFP.
“We want to say thank you to President Nicholas Sarkozy and the French people who were the first, even before the Americans, to support the Libyans in their struggle,” added this mother of two, who arrived in the United States in 1984 with her brothers and sisters after receiving political asylum.
Swadek joined other Libyan exiles who had come to downtown Washington late Sunday after learning that the rebels had entered Tripoli.
Together, they chanted in French and English: “Thank you, Sarkozy! “Thank you, Obama!”
The Kadhafi regime has not officially fallen, but Swadek was certain that its end had in effect arrived.
“We are very confident we are going to win because God is with us and people are with us,” she said.
“They already have the sons,” Swadek added, referring to reports that one of his sons, Seif al-Islam, had been arrested and another, Mohamed Kadhafi, is reportedly cowering in his house, afraid to leave.
“Now we want him alive for a trial for all the crimes against humanity he has done not just now but for four decades,” Swadek said, referring to the Libyan leader.
The celebrations began after Libyan rebels entered the heart of Tripoli, surging into the capital in a final drive to oust Kadhafi.
US President Barack Obama said in a statement the Kadhafi regime was at a “tipping point” and that the “tyrant” must go, adding a call for the rebels to respect human rights and move to democracy.
Senior rebel figure Mahmud Jibril said there were still pockets of resistance in and around Tripoli and warned his forces to be cautious.
Next to Swadek, a woman waved a white placard thanking NATO for its “fight for democracy.”
Children were clad in “Free Libya” T-shirts with the colors of the rebel flag. One of them was also waving a large multicolored sign, saying in capital letters” “FINALLY.”
As euphoria grew, Libyans began to sing in English: “Kadhafi left Tripoli, Libya is free.”
Another song in Arabic said: “Hello, hello, if you want to join Kadhafi, it’s going to be very bad for him.”
About 40 men knelt facing Mecca to pray, some using the rebel flag as a prayer mat.
Among them was Khaled Rouini, a 42-year-old Tunisian taxi driver, who could not hide his excitement.
“I came to the White House to celebrate the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt,” he said proudly sporting a “Free Libya” T-shirt. “And now it is in Libya.”
Ahmed Ilhnish, draped in the rebel flag, said he had been overwhelmed by emotions.
“There is no word to tell what we feel,” he said. “Now it is just a matter of time.
“I have been waiting this day since the day I was born,” he continued. “I was in Benghazi in March when the French planes first came. I’m going to get back in Tripoli tomorrow or in a few days as soon as they get him.”