Gathafi loyalists bring back fighting to Tripoli
TRIPOLI - A gun battle erupted in Tripoli on Friday between armed supporters of ousted Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi and interim government forces, leaving three dead and 30 wounded, the new regime said.
Pro-Gathafi gunmen clashed with fighters loyal to the National Transitional Council in Abu Salim, a district around 10 kilometres (six miles) south of the city centre known to harbour supporters of the former Libyan leader.
Tripoli security official Abdelrazaq al-Aradi said that two Gathafi loyalists and one NTC fighter were killed in the clashed while another 30 people were wounded.
Aradi, vice president of the security committee in the Libyan capital, told a news conference that around 50 armed Gathafi supporters were behind the violence, 27 of whom, including four "African mercenaries," were subsequently arrested.
It was the first fighting in the Libyan capital since it fell to anti-Gathafi forces in August, and comes at a key moment in the eight-month conflict.
The new regime is hoping to proclaim the country's liberation in the coming days, and prepare for the transition to an elected government, when NTC forces capture Gathafi's hometown of Sirte where diehard loyalists are making a determined last stand.
Forces from Libya's new regime launched a fierce assault on two areas of Gathafi's hometown on Friday.
0 The latest offensive in Sirte, aimed at mopping up remaining pockets of stiff resistance, came 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 Friday's fighting in Sirte, said Abdulsalam Abdelkani, a medic at a field hospital in the east of the city.
The head of Tripoli's supreme military council, Abdelhakim Belhaj, pledged tough action against the pro-Gathafi fighters and "dormant cells" of the former regime, which he said would be targeted in the clean-up operation launched on Friday.
In Tripol Abdel Rahman Bussin, the military spokesman for the new regime, said that Friday's fighting broke out in the Abu Salim district after pro-Gathafi demonstrations.
He said Gathafi supporters had also clashed with NTC fighters in other parts of the capital, without giving details. Residents in Abu Salim reported 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 been brought under control by late afternoon.
Many roads in the capital were closed following the violence.
Residents said the Abu Salim protest began in the early afternoon, after Friday prayers, and was prompted by a call to rise from a pro-Gathafi Libyan television presenter earlier in the week, in a message broadcast on Iraqi TV channel Al-Rai.
"We knew that pro-Gathafi 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.