Gadhafi loyalists hold off attacks

Gadhafi loyalists hold off attacks

Anti-govt fighters face fierce defence in last strongholds of ousted Libyan leader

The smoke of battle hung over Gadhafi’s home town of Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast between Tripoli and Benghazi, and Bani Walid, a tribal stronghold in the desert, as the motley forces of the National Transitional Council (NTC) mounted their biggest advances after weeks of stalemate and skirmishing.

But the word coming back from the frontlines to Reuters correspondents on the outskirts of both cities was that fierce defence was not being overcome quickly, nearly four weeks after the rebel coalition overran Gadhafi’s capital.

Libya’s new leaders are getting on with the business of government, trying to impose order on a host of irregular armed forces and restart the oil-based economy. Their latest foreign visitor was Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who hailed the fate of Gadhafi as an example to Turkey’s Syrian neighbour.

Peace call

He also called on the people of Sirte to give up the fight and make peace, though in neither town did that seem imminent.

“It’s a very strong resistance,” Abusif Ghnyah, a spokesman for the NTC forces at Bani Walid, told reporters watching the battle from high ground. “The most difficult part is the central market, that is where they are firing from.”

A Reuters correspondent watched anti-Gadhafi fighters move forward under mortar, rocket and sniper fire, edging from house to house and sheltering behind walls from shrapnel and bullets.

A faux-ancient castle built for Gadhafi on a hill in the center of Bani Walid was also under attack, fighters said.

Many of the town’s 1,00,000 residents fled in recent days.

It was also unclear how many civilians remain in Sirte, a sprawling city of a similar size, which Gadhafi created out of his native village. NTC fighters, who brought up scores of machinegun-mounted pickup trucks and a handful of tanks, spoke of scattered pockets of heavily armed opponents dug in there. Contact has not been possible with Gadhafi
loyalists inside the two towns, as well as at Sabha, deep in Libya’s southern desert where several senior Gadhafi aides have been lately.

Desert skirmish

Details of developments around Sabha are scant, but a British military spokesman said that British jets had fired about two dozen Brimstone missiles to destroy a group of Libyan armored vehicles near the desert town on Thursday.

Erdogan, visiting a day after the French and British leaders credited by the NTC with rallying support for them, displayed Nato-member Turkey’s Muslim credentials by joining NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil for Friday prayers at the newly renamed Martyrs’ Square, once a showcase for Gadhafi.

“From here I call out to Sirte,” he said of the beleaguered city. “Come, right now. Some 10,000 brothers and sisters are hungry and thirsty -- embrace your brothers in Tripoli.
“Spilling blood does not suit us. Let us come together.”

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