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Libyan rebels oust lingering loyalists

There is no water, scarcely any gas or fresh food, and only intermittent power, but Tripoli's heart is slowly beginning to beat again.

Streets in the Libyan capital were mostly quiet Saturday, and there were no signs of snipers as the city's new rulers eliminated a last pocket of loyalist resistance on the road to the international airport.

The rebels, who now control most of Libya, said they are preparing for an assault on Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, his last major bastion, if negotiations with tribal leaders there fail. Gadhafi's whereabouts are unknown, but there has been speculation he may have sought refuge in his tribal area.

Every day, security in the capital has improved, and many here appear to be allowing themselves to finally believe they have thrown off the weight of 42 years of dictatorship.

"This is a sensation that I never felt before," said Abdul Munam el-Zurgani, a doctor and medical supplies importer who was born in 1971, the year after Moammar Gadhafi took power. "Even though there is no water and no electricity, we are very grateful, first to God, but also to the outside world that helped our cause."

The rebels said they took control of the Ras Ajdir border crossing into Tunisia on Saturday and will soon reopen the main supply route to Tripoli. Loyalist troops are still shelling a portion of the road near the city of Zuwarah, 75 miles west of Tripoli, but should be flushed out soon, said Mahmoud Shammam, the information minister in the rebel's transitional council.

Officials are also hoping to restart operations at the large refinery in Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli, by Monday and restore the water supply in the capital. The rebels had shut off water supplies because of rumors Gadhafi had poisoned the water, and tests are still under way to ensure this is not the case.

Meanwhile, some members of the rebel council have moved to Tripoli, and its most senior leaders are expected soon. The challenges they face are enormous, and they are already warning they cannot perform miracles.

Hospitals are still full to bursting, and many medicines are in short supply. Doctors have been working nonstop for weeks on a flood of casualties from the fighting, initially wounded pro-Gadhafi soldiers and now mainly rebels.

"It is chaos," said Aladdin Ben Ramadan, the head neurosurgeon at the Shara al-Zawiyah Hospital.

Re-establishing a police force is also a pressing task, and officials want to avoid the mistakes of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, where ridding the government of Saddam loyalists left an administrative vacuum.

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