No revolt after Libya violence
Bani Walid - A bullet-scarred barracks, scorched and abandoned like the ageing tanks guarding its shattered gateway, was all that remained on Tuesday of what passed for the Libyan government's grip on Bani Walid.
But a day after townsmen put to flight a force loyal to the Western-backed interim administration in Tripoli, elders in the desert city, once a bastion of support for Muammar Gaddafi, dismissed accusations they wanted to restore the late dictator's family to power or had any ambitions beyond their local area.
"Allegations of pro-Gaddafi elements in Bani Walid, this is not true," said Miftah Jubarra, who was among dozens of leading citizens gathered at a local mosque to form a municipal council now that nominal representatives from the capital have fled.
"In the Libyan revolution, we have all become brothers," Jubarra told Reuters. "We will not be an obstacle to progress."
That might reassure the National Transitional Council, the body which won Nato backing to oust Gaddafi last year but which is now struggling to restore services and impose order on myriad armed groups.
An official of the NTC's government in Tripoli insisted it saw no threat from the "limited local incident".
Yet the violence, 150km south of the capital, was also symptomatic of major obstacles to Libyan hopes of a rapid transition to peace, democracy and oil-fuelled prosperity.
Residents heard warplanes overhead late on Monday as NTC forces hastily drove south from Tripoli to take up positions 50km from Bani Walid.
But those troops had, as yet, no orders to move on the town, where Gaddafi loyalists fought rebel forces to a standstill before negotiating a surrender in October.
Interior Minister Fawzi Abd al-All told a news conference in Tripoli they would "strike with an iron fist" anyone who posed a threat to Libyan security - but he also said there would be no NTC move against Bani Walid until it was clear what happened.
People in Bani Walid urged the NTC to keep back and the government official in Tripoli, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the interim administration was in no hurry to get mired in a dispute he characterised as a spat between local factions, rather than a counter-revolution.