Libya: Fighters clash near Tripoli, several dead

Interim government officials struggle to calm tensions amid talk of tribal feuds and diehard support for former leader Gaddafi.

Libyan fighters 311 R (photo credit: Reuters)
Libyan fighters 311 R
(photo credit: Reuters)
IMAYA, Libya - Heavy fighting between local armed groups killed several people on the outskirts of Tripoli on Saturday, as interim government officials struggled to calm tensions amid talk of tribal feuds and diehard support for Muammar Gaddafi.
On a second day of clashes near a military camp lying among farms and villages between the capital and the port of Zawiyah, some 50 km (30 miles) to the west, anti-Gaddafi fighters from Zawiyah pounded targets with heavy machineguns, anti-aircraft cannon, rocket-propelled grenades and Grad rockets.
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Incoming shellfire forced the Zawiyah fighters to take cover and retreat at times.
The fighting has fanned anxieties that, with tens of thousands of heavily armed men roaming a country still lacking new structures of government, frictions could escalate and hamper efforts to install democracy in place of Gaddafi's rule.
Zawiyah fighters, who said they had two men killed on Friday, put their own losses on Saturday at around 10, though there was considerable confusion at the scene. Senior figures who said they spoke for those on the other side, said they knew of no losses and blamed tension on misunderstandings.
Intense and prolonged exchanges of gunfire punctuated by explosions continued for several hours on Saturday afternoon, around a military base at Imaya, an area inhabited by people from the Wershifanna tribe, a big clan in the Tripoli region.
The area straddles the main highway connecting the capital to the Tunisian border and oil and gas facilities near Zawiyah.
Mohammed Sayeh, a member from the Wershifanna on the 51-seat National Transitional Council (NTC), Libya's interim rulers, played down the fighting, calling it an attack by men from Zawiyah who wanted control of the Imaya base and had been misled by a rumour that pro-Gaddafi fighters were in the area.
"They have made propaganda that the Wershifanna are pro-Gaddafi to themselves an excuse to go through people's homes, take their cars," Sayeh told Reuters, adding that the NTC was working to calm the situation. "These are false rumors."