Libyan interim gov't says closing in on Gaddafi bastions

Anti-Gaddafi fighters besieging two important towns say they are ready to attack, despite week-long grace period promised for loyalists.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil NTC chair_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Mustafa Abdel Jalil NTC chair_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
TRIPOLI/MISRATA, Libya - Libya's interim government said it was closing in on bastions of support for Muammar Gaddafi on Saturday, although there were mixed signals of how quickly their forces were moving.
Although the head of the NATO-backed National Transitional Council (NTC) reaffirmed a week-long grace period for making terms to avoid bloodshed, anti-Gaddafi fighters besieging two important towns said they were ready to attack.
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A spokesman for Gaddafi, who is in hiding since his capital fell to rebel forces two weeks ago, dismissed talk of surrender and said powerful tribal leaders were still loyal to him.
Outside the town of Bani Walid, a stronghold of Libya's biggest tribe in Tripoli's desert hinterland, a spokesman for NTC forces said their patience was exhausted and an offensive would begin within hours. Around Sirte, Gaddafi's home town on the coast, there was similar impatience among the fighters.
"In a few hours we will enter, we will be in Bani Walid," local military spokesman Mahmoud Abdul Aziz told Reuters at a checkpoint 60 km (40 miles) north of the town where commanders for the National Transitional Council said this week they believe Gaddafi himself may have taken refuge.
"Some people have asked for more time. But we gave them enough time," Abdul Aziz said.
"We've lost patience. They have no forces and our morale is high. Today at night, or tomorrow morning, we're going to open Bani Walid, we're going to attack."
Yet there remained some doubt over the forces' plans. Some hours earlier, NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil had told a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi, the seat of the six-month uprising, that he was ready for more negotiation:

"With God's grace, we are in a position of strength. We can enter any city ... but because of our care and desire to prevent bloodshed and avoid more destruction to national institutions we have given a period of one week.

"This is an opportunity for these cities to announce their peaceful joining of the revolution," he said.