Libya’s new leaders mop up after deadly clashes in Tripoli

2011-10-15 12:48

Tripoli – Libya’s new leadership today pressed a campaign to clear the capital of armed loyalists of Muammar Gaddafi after fierce gun battles killed three people in the first fighting to rock Tripoli since its capture in August.

The head of Tripoli’s supreme military council, Abdelhakim Belhaj, pledged tough action against the pro-Gaddafi fighters and “dormant cells” of the former regime, which he said would be targeted in the clean-up operation.

Pro-Gaddafi gunmen yesterday clashed with fighters loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Abu Salim, a district 10km south of the city centre known to harbour supporters of the fugitive strongman.

Abdelrazaq al-Aradi, vice-president of the security committee in Tripoli, said three people had been killed in the clashes – two Gaddafi loyalists and one NTC fighter – and another 30 people wounded.

Aradi told a news conference that 50 armed Gaddafi supporters were behind the violence, 27 of whom, including four “African mercenaries”, were arrested.

Abdel Rahman Bussin, the military spokesperson for the new regime, told AFP the fighting broke out in the Abu Salim district after pro-Gaddafi demonstrations.

He said Gaddafi supporters had clashed with NTC fighters in other parts of the capital yesterday, without giving details. Residents of Abu Salim said there had also been violence in Al-Hai al-Islami, west of the city centre.

A senior official in the military council said earlier that the fighting was “very limited” in scope and that the military had brought it under control by late afternoon.

Residents said the Abu Salim protest began after noon prayers and was prompted by a call to rise from a pro-Gaddafi Libyan television presenter earlier in the week, broadcast on Iraqi TV channel Al-Rai.

“We knew that pro-Gaddafi forces were going to come out today. We were prepared,” said Meftah, a young NTC fighter in Abu Salim. The district, renowned for its prison, was the last area of the capital to witness resistance after NTC forces stormed the former leader’s sprawling and fortified Bab al-Aziziya headquarters on August 23.

Many roads in the capital were closed following the violence. The flare-up comes as a setback to the new regime, which hopes to proclaim the country’s liberation within days, and prepare for the transition to an elected government, when Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte is finally captured by NTC forces.

Libya’s new regime forces kept up pressure on the last two pockets of resistance in Sirte today with hundreds of men surrounding the Dollar and Number two districts, an AFP correspondent said.

“We had sporadic clashes the whole night with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades,” said Faraj al-Wafi, a fighter from the Martyrs of Free Libya Brigade, who spent the night in the area.

Wafi told AFP that NTC forces sent more troops and some tanks as reinforcement. Skirmishes continued in the morning with the two camps exchanging RPG fire.

Sporadic shelling and gunfire was heard, the AFP correspondent said. Forces from Libya’s new regime launched a fierce assault on the two neighbourhoods yesterday, a day after NTC combatants were forced to withdraw under a hail of withering sniper fire.

At least four people were killed and 46 wounded in yesterday’s fighting in Sirte, said Abdulsalam Abdelkani, a medic at a field hospital in the east of the city.

Sirte is a key goal for the NTC, which has said it will not proclaim Libya’s liberation and begin preparing for the transition to an elected government until the city has fallen.

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