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VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. — A top State Department diplomat says “it’s only a matter of time now” before besieged Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has to step down.

Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman says “I think what’s clear is that the rebels are winning.” He says U.S. officials don’t know Gadhafi’s whereabouts.

Interviewed on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday from Cairo, Feltman says “the rebels are clearly taking over the city. They are clearly taking over the institutions.” He says American officials have been told the rebels have seized control of Libya’s state television.

Asked whether he believes the al Qaida terrorist network will gain new footing in Libya, Feltman says the first step in a post-Gadhafi setting is “trying to prevent some kind of cycle where people act out their own retributions,” as happened when Saddam Hussein fell in Iraq.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

President Barack Obama says it’s time for Moammar Gadhafi to recognize that his rule over Libya has come to an end and he should relinquish power to stop the violence and bloodshed of six months of civil war aimed at toppling his autocratic regime.

“The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people,” Obama said Sunday in a statement from Martha’s Vineyard, where he’s vacationing with his family. The U.S. says it will work closely with the rebels.

After a day of dramatic developments, Obama said the situation in Libya had reached a “tipping point” and control of the capital was “slipping from the grasp of a tyrant.”

“The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Moammar Gadhafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end,” Obama said. “Gadhafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all.” Obama issued the statement after conducting a conference call with members of his national security team, who had provided him with updates throughout the day.

Clashes were reported early Monday near Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli when tanks rolled out and opened fire on rebels trying to storm the complex.

Libyan rebels who raced into Tripoli on Sunday met little resistance as Gadhafi’s defenders melted away and his 42-year authoritarian rule quickly crumbled. Euphoric fighters celebrated with residents of the capital in Green Square, the symbolic heart of the fading regime. Gadhafi’s whereabouts were unknown, though state TV broadcast his bitter pleas for Libyans to defend his regime.

Opposition fighters captured his son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, who along with his father faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. Another son was in contact with rebels about surrendering, the opposition said.

“Tonight, the momentum against the Gadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant,” Obama said in the statement. “The Gadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.”

The United States has joined other countries in recognizing the rebel forces, the Transitional National Council, as the legitimate government in Libya.

Obama called on the rebels “at this pivotal and historic time” to demonstrate the leadership needed to steer the country through a transition by respecting the rights of the Libyan people, avoiding civilian casualties, protecting state institutions and pursuing a transition to democracy that is “just and inclusive” for all of the country’s people.

Obama said the U.S. would remain in close contact with the TNC and work with its allies and partners around the world to protect the Libyan people and support a peaceful shift to democracy.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were also kept updated throughout the day, officials said.


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