[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): Gaddafi gunmen, govt forces clash in Libyan capital

[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): Gaddafi gunmen, govt forces clash in Libyan capital

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sat, 15 Oct 2011 12:59:50 +0200

Gaddafi gunmen, govt forces clash in Libyan capital

Fri Oct 14, 2011 10:20pm GMT

* Battle erupts in district known for Gaddafi sympathies

* Hundreds of NTC fighters pour into Abu Salim area

* Two on pro-Gaddafi side, one NTC fighter killed in shootout

* Pocket of pro-Gaddafi resistance holding out in Sirte (Adds Tripoli death
toll, NTC official's quotes)

By Barry Malone

TRIPOLI, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Gunbattles between supporters of deposed leader
Muammar Gaddafi and forces of the National Transitional Council (NTC) shook
the Libyan capital on Friday, raising fears of an insurgency against the
country's new rulers.

The clashes appeared to be isolated and involve only dozens of pro-Gaddafi
fighters, but it was the first sign of armed resistance to the NTC in
Tripoli since its rebel brigades seized the city and ended Gaddafi's 42-year
rule in August.

Hundreds of NTC fighters in pick-up trucks shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is
greatest) careered towards the Abu Salim neighbourhood, a repository of
support for Gaddafi, and the two sides exchanged automatic and heavy
machinegun fire.

The fighting in Tripoli coincided with prolonged battles in Sirte, where NTC
forces are battling pro-Gaddafi fighters holed up in a small area of
Gaddafi's home town.

Local people in Tripoli told Reuters that a group of up to 50 armed men had
appeared in the Abu Salim district earlier in the day and chanted
pro-Gaddafi slogans. NTC men said fighting also broke out in three nearby

"Gaddafi told them in a message last night to rise up after Friday prayers,"
said one NTC fighter, Abdullah. "That's why these few people have come out
and are causing this problem."

Since he went into hiding after rebel forces captured Tripoli on August 23,
Gaddafi has released a number of audio recordings calling on loyalists to
fight back.

Two Gaddafi supporters and one NTC fighter were killed in Friday's violence
in Tripoli, NTC official Abdel Razak al Oraidi said during a press
conference in the capital.

"Orders were issued to raise the state of alert to the maximum," Oraidi
said. "Gaddafi supporters should give up their weapons. Those who do not do
so will be considered terrorists."

NTC fighters dragged one man out of an apartment block in Abu Salim, a
traditional bastion of support for Gaddafi. As he was kicked and punched,
one NTC man tried twice to stab the prisoner only to be blocked each time by
another NTC man.

The captured man had been armed with a rocket-propelled grenade, said NTC
fighters. The interim government's forces have been criticised by human
rights groups for their treatment of prisoners. Reuters saw at least two
other captured gunmen taken away in pickup trucks being punched and kicked.

Dominated by apartment blocks, Abu Salim was the last part of the capital to
fall to the NTC when its forces took Tripoli on Aug. 23 after six months of
civil war.

The NTC fighters were met by volleys of machinegun fire as they went from
house to house searching for remaining pro-Gaddafi gunmen. Shooting died
down later in the afternoon.

"Some Gaddafi cells came out on the streets with guns today after prayers
but, as you can see, our forces have the situation under control," said a
senior NTC official at the scene under heavy protection, Mahmoud Abdul Aziz.

"All families are safe. If Gaddafi is still at large we won't see peace but
we will slay that beast."

A spokesman for the NTC in the eastern city of Benghazi dismissed Gaddafi's
armed supporters in Tripoli as a "fifth column" trying to destabilise the

"The other thing I hear that is disturbing is that the fifth column has been
doing some drive-by shootings around Tripoli today. These are loyalists
trying to wreak havoc," he said.

Diplomats told Reuters that there were also drive-by shootings near the
Radisson hotel, where some senior NTC officials and Western diplomats are


Gaddafi supporters are still holding out in Sirte, Gaddafi's Mediterranean
coastal hometown in the centre of the country, where a small pocket is
battling on after weeks of fighting, and Bani Walid, a town south of

Government forces pushed tanks deep into Sirte on Friday to try to smash
resistance by pro-Gaddafi fighters.

The mostly untrained NTC militia army has gradually tightened its
stranglehold around Sirte in a chaotic struggle that has cost scores of
lives and left thousands homeless.

The failure to seize the final Gaddafi bastions has also held up the attempt
by Libya's new leaders to try to build a democratic government, a process
they say will begin only after Sirte is captured.

NTC commanders say Gaddafi's diehard loyalists now only control an area
measuring about 700 metres (yards) north to south, and around 1.5 km (a
mile) east to west in a residential neighbourhood comprising mostly
apartment blocks.

"We are going to engage them with tanks and heavy artillery first. After
that we will send in the pick-up trucks with anti-aircraft guns, then the
infantry," said NTC commander Abdul Hadi Doghman.

The biggest obstacle to taking the town has been Gaddafi's snipers hunkered
down in buildings.

Green flags, the banner of Gaddafi's rule, still fly above many of the
buildings in Sirte. An occasional sniper shot zipped past government forces
cleaning their weapons.

Gaddafi's encircled forces in Sirte have little hope of victory, but still
fight on, inflicting casualties with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and
small arms.

Gaddafi himself is believed to be hiding somewhere in the vast desert of
southern Libya.


One NTC commander said Gaddafi's forces were no longer using heavier weapons
and appeared to have lost their cohesion.

"We've noticed now they are fighting every man for himself," said Baloun
al-Sharie, a field commander. "We tried to tell them it's enough and to give
themselves up, but they would not."

NTC officers say Gaddafi loyalists fear reprisals if they surrender -- some
captured fighters have been abused.

A Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) doctor at Sirte's Ibn Sina hospital
estimated there are still some 10,000 people marooned by the fighting in the
city of 75,000 residents. Many of those trapped are women or children and
some need medical care.

"In the past few days, the patients haven't been able to receive proper
medical care, due to a shortage of doctors and due to the lack of water,"
said Gabriele Rossi. "The wounds of some patients are really bad and very

Amnesty International issued a report on Wednesday saying Libya's new rulers
were in danger of repeating human rights abuses commonplace under Gaddafi.
The NTC said it would look into the report. (Additional reporting by Rania
El Gamal and Tim Gaynor in Sirte; Brian Rohan in Benghazi and Ali Shuaid and
Yasmine Saleh in Cairo; Writing by Joseph Nasr and Jon Hemming; Editing by
Alastair Macdonald, Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich)

C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved


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