Though the New York Times euphemistically calls Muammar Qaddafi “idiosyncratic,” the fact is that Libya’s soon-to-be-ousted leader is a nutcase, a mentally ill dictator who’s ruled the desert republic since 1969. Reporting from Libya isn’t easy, but it appears that many cities have fallen to the rebellion, including Benghazi, the city of 700,000 that anchors Libya’s east, and major parts of the capital, Tripoli.

Appropriately, an equally deranged Russian leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist, has invited Qaddafi to exile himself in Russia. “I invite you to make Moscow your place of permanent residence.”

Hundreds are dead in Libya. Amid reports that the Libyan air force is bombing protesters in the street, major sections of the armed forces have thrown in their lot with protesters. According to some reports, the protesters have acquired heavy weapons and even tanks, and in Benghazi army bases and the headquarters of the security forces have fallen to the revolution. In a bizarre address on television in which he warned of “rivers of blood,” Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the leader’s son, threatened to mobilize Libya’s tribes for “civil war,” and he added: “The West and Europe and the United States will not accept the establishment of an Islamic emirate in Libya.” Of course, the rebels aren’t planning to set up an Islamic emirate anytime soon, and Qaddafi’s weird prediction that the “West” would rescue his regime is comically absurd. In fact, virtually all of Europe is evacuating its citizens, amid widespread condemnation of the regime’s stunning use of brutal force.

With Benghazi in rebel control, buildings are on fire in Tripoli. The Guardian reports:

In fast-moving developments after midnight, demonstrators were reported to be in Tripoli’s Green Square and preparing to march on Gaddafi’s compound as rumors spread that the leader had fled to Venezuela. Other reports described protesters in the streets of Tripoli throwing stones at billboards of Gaddafi while police used teargas to try to disperse them.

Several senior Libyan diplomats have also defected to the revolution, including ambassadors to China and the Arab League. And a tribal leader in eastern Libya, which is home to most of the country’s oil industry, threatened to shut down production and exports unless the regime halts it attacks on protesters.

According to one report:

Clashes were raging in and around Tripoli’s central Green Square, lasting until dawn. Snipers opened fire on crowds trying to seize the square, and Qaddafi supporters speeding through in vehicles shot and ran over protesters, but they failed to stop the demonstrators taking over the offices of two of the multiple state-run satellite news channels. As dawn broke smoke was rising from two sites in Tripoli, a police station and a security forces base. The city was closed and streets empty, with schools, government offices and most shops shut.