After the euphoria, battle for Tripoli rages on

By Ulf Laessing

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - After the euphoria of capturing Muammar Gaddafi's compound, Libyans came round to the realization on Wednesday that the battle for Tripoli had still to be fought to the end.

Though rebel fighters broke into the Bab al-Aziziya compound from where Gaddafi taunted Western powers at the onset of the NATO bombing campaign in March, the leader was not to be found and his remaining loyal troops refused to simply give up.

"There are some fights going but hopefully today everything will be over," one rebel fighter said.

Rebel fighters manned checkpoints across the city as the crack of automatic weapon fire and the thud of anti-aircraft guns rang out, but gone were the scenes of wild jubilation and civilians prudently chose to stay at home.

Rebels began expunging the symbols of Gaddafi rule -- ripping down the larger-than-life billboard posters of the man who ran this oil-producing nation for 42-years and painting over street names and re-naming them in honor of rebels who fell as "martyrs" in the fight against Gaddafi.

For most of the population, security was still far too patchy for life to even start getting back to normal. Shops remained firmly shuttered and rubbish piled up uncollected in the streets.

While handfuls of rebels came to pick over the shattered concrete and twisted steel remnants Bab al-Aziziya complex for valuables or mementos, the focus of fighting shifted to the area around the Rixos hotel, where some 35 foreign journalists were trapped by the fighting and under armed guard by Gaddafi loyalists. They were escorted out on Wednesday by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Inside the five-star showpiece hotel, food and water were running low, a Reuters reporter there said.

Supplies were also running short at hospitals and most doctors had not returned to work, a rebel spokesman said.

"There is a real catastrophe here. All hospitals and other health centers in Tripoli are suffering from a lack of medical staff, medicine and medical equipment," said the spokesman.

"Appeals were made yesterday in the streets and mosques for urgent help. There is also a dangerous shortage of blood at hospitals for the wounded."

(Editing by Jon Boyle)