Libya: Rebels await counter-attack; Gaddafi defiant

By REUTERS
February 28, 2011 11:42

Gaddafi troops reportedly surrounding city of Zawiya; France sends aid to Benghazi; reports of Libyan air force bombing radio station.

3 minute read.



Libya: Rebel fighters wait for pro-Gaddafi forces

Libya rebels waiting for a fight 311 Reu. (photo credit: Asmaa Waguih / Reuters)

Rebels awaited a counter-attack by Muammar Gaddafi's forces on Monday, after the Libyan leader defied calls for him to quit in the hardest-fought of the Arab world's wave of uprisings.

Rebels holding Zawiyah, only 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, said about 2,000 troops loyal to Gaddafi had surrounded the city.

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"We will do our best to fight them off. They will attack soon," said a former police major who switched sides and joined the rebellion. "If we are fighting for freedom, we are ready to die for it."

Residents even in parts of the capital Tripoli have thrown up barricades against government forces. A general in the east of the country, where Gaddafi's power has evaporated, told Reuters his forces were ready to help rebels in the west.

"Our brothers in Tripoli say: `We are fine so far, we do not need help'. If they ask for help we are ready to move," said General Ahmed el-Gatrani, one of most senior figures in the mutinous army in Benghazi.

Analysts said they expect rebels to eventually take the capital and kill or capture Gaddafi, but add that he has the firepower to foment chaos or civil war -- a prospect he and his sons have warned of.

Serbian television quoted Gaddafi as blaming foreigners and al Qaeda for the unrest and condemning the UN Security Council for imposing sanctions and ordering a war crimes inquiry.

"The people of Libya support me. Small groups of rebels are surrounded and will be dealt with," he said.

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Residents of Zawiyah told of fierce fighting against pro-Gaddafi paramilitaries armed with heavy weapons.

"Gaddafi is crazy. His people shot at us using rocket-propelled grenades," said a man who gave his name as Mustafa. Another man called Chawki said: "We need justice. People are being killed. Gaddafi's people shot my nephew."

But Libyan exile groups said later aircraft were firing on the city's radio station.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, opponents of the 68-year-old leader said they had formed a National Libyan Council to be the "face" of the revolution, but it was unclear who they represented.

They said they wanted no foreign intervention and had not made contact with foreign governments.

The "Network of Free Ulema," claiming to represent "some of Libya's most senior and most respected Muslim scholars", issued a statement urging "total rebellion" against Gaddafi and endorsing the formation of an "interim government" announced two days ago.

France sends massive aid to Benghazi

France will send two planeloads of medical aid to the Libyan city of Benghazi, held by opponents of Muammar Gaddafi, marking the start of a humanitarian operation, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Monday.

Fillon linked the aid mission to a wider effort by the French government to prevent an influx of immigrants from Libya across the Mediterranean, in the wake of an uprising that has shaken but not broken the rule of Muammar Gaddafi.

France and Italy have both expressed concern that a collapse of organized government in Libya could lead Libyans and migrant workers there to flee to the southern shores of the European Union.

"In a few hours two airplanes will leave for Benghazi at the request of the French government with doctors, nurses, medical equipment, and it will mark the start of a massive humanitarian aid operation for the people in the liberated territories," Fillon said in an interview on RTL.


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