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Libya's rebel government moving to Tripoli to head off power vacuum

Rebel leaders based in the east are heading to Tripoli to strengthen their claim as the legitimate government of Libya. But their credibility has been shaken by inaccurate statements about rebel achievements.

Rebel fighters react as they advance to the frontline during a fighting in Tripoli, Libya, Tuesday, Aug. 23. Rebels say they control most of Tripoli, but they faced pockets of fierce resistance from regime loyalists firing mortars and anti-aircraft guns.

Sergey Ponomarev/AP

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Libya's rebel leaders are moving to establish political control in Tripoli in anticipation of Muammar Qaddafi's fall, seeking to prevent a power vacuum and establish themselves as the sovereign government of a new Libya.

“We have to be there at the moment of liberation,” says Joma Sayehi Eltayef, who has been coordinating preparations for securing Tripoli from the eastern city of Benghazi. “We can’t leave any opportunities for remnants of the regime, or a vacuum. We need a strong grip so that we don’t have chaos. As soon as the regime falls, we have an alternative ready to take over.”

The move poses a major test of the leadership's coordination as it prepares to expand its responsibility from the rebel-controlled east to the entire nation, and make the transition from the battlefield to the task of running a vast, oil-rich country.

Rebel leaders flying to Tripoli today

After rebels' swift takeover of the capital on Sunday night, Qaddafi loyalists began fighting back intensely today, indicating that the push to take the capital may yet be a bloody and drawn-out battle. The rebels' National Transition Council, as well as local councils under its umbrella, is now activating plans it has been preparing for months.

The NTC is sending government ministers to Tripoli today to begin coordinating executive control as well as security, and aims to implement its transition plan as soon as possible.

Mr. Eltayef, a Tripoli native from a prominent family and leader of the local Tripoli council, says he will try to fly to the capital today. Once there, he plans to activate what he calls an extensive network of Tripoli residents he has been preparing over the past few months to secure the capital once rebel fighters took control.

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