Libya conflict: Gaddafi says Tripoli attackers quashed

Libyan rebel fighters seen at the checkpoint outside Zawiya, Libya, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011
Image caption Rebel forces say they will advance on Tripoli on Sunday

There have been further explosions in Libya's capital, Tripoli, hours after Col Muammar Gaddafi said attackers had been "eliminated" and as rebels advance on three fronts on their key target.

Reports told of four loud explosions in Tripoli on Sunday morning.

Earlier Col Gaddafi spoke on state TV, where his son Saif al-Islam appeared, vowing to "resist... and win".

On Saturday rebels took Zlitan, 160km (100 miles) east of Tripoli, and Zawiya 40km to the west.

A rebel official said the uprising had begun in Tripoli, but the violence appeared to peak late on Saturday night and there is still much support for Colonel Gaddafi in the city, correspondents say.

Pro-Gaddafi forces have been fighting back at the oil port of Brega, with the rebels admitting that they had fallen back from the eastern town's industrial zone under heavy bombardment.

Clerics 'call to rise up'

Four loud explosions were heard in Tripoli on Sunday morning following hours of sustained gunfire in the city.

There were reports of protests and gunfire in areas to the north and east of Tripoli, including the Tajoura district, where there was trouble at the start of this uprising against Col Gaddafi, the BBC's Matthew Price reports from the capital.

The most intense period of fighting came at around 11pm but the level of gunfire was much reduced by Sunday morning, our correspondent says.

The overnight fighting was almost certainly opponents of Colonel Gaddafi already in scattered parts of Tripoli rising up against pro-Gaddafi forces, rather than rebel forces advancing into the capital, our correspondent adds.

Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the rebel National Transition Council (NTC), was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency: "The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up."

"There is co-ordination with the rebels in Tripoli. This was a pre-set plan," said Mr Ghoga.

But Col Gaddafi's Information Minister Moussa Ibrahim later put the trouble down to "small armed gangs".

"Tripoli is safe, and completely under the control of the armed people committees and the volunteers and the honourable people of Tripoli," the minister said.

"Some gunmen entered two or three areas of Tripoli. They were confronted and everything ended within half an hour."

In an audio broadcast shortly afterwards, Col Gaddafi congratulated his supporters for repelling the rebels.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionEngineer Abdul Haken in Tripoli: "The situation is under control"

"Those rats were attacked by the masses tonight and we eliminated them," he said.

"I know you are happy and I saw the fireworks in Green Square, I know that there are air strikes but the fireworks were louder than the air bombing."

His son, Saif al-Islam, ruled out any possibility of surrender.

"I see ourselves as victorious, I see our position is strong," he said in a speech on state TV.

He did, however, urge the rebels to open talks.

"If you want peace, we are ready," he said.

The Libyan leader certainly has support in Tripoli, our correspondent says.

Pro-Gaddafi men and women have received weapons training in recent weeks, while checkpoints have sprung up across the city.

A Tripoli resident told Reuters that Muslim clerics had called for people to rise up in parts of the Libyan capital.

The resident said the imams made the call as Muslims were breaking their daytime fast during the holy month of Ramadan on Saturday evening.

In his audio message, Col Gaddafi condemned "traitors" who were "defiling mosques" in the mainly Muslim country.

Meanwhile, a small number of Britons who have remained in Libya's capital, Tripoli, were being evacuated on a ship to Malta, the Foreign Office said on Sunday.

'Rebel momentum'

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Zawiya says that rebel forces are preparing to advance along the road to the capital on Sunday after securing the town.

He says they advanced into the countryside on Saturday before pulling back to allow Nato to carry out air strikes.

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Media captionThe BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Zawiya says pro-Gaddafi forces no longer control the area

Our correspondent says this rebel advance seems to have more momentum than previous ones and has more support from Nato forces.

They have also seized most of the town of Zlitan and are advancing from the south.

Nato, enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone to protect civilians since March, controls sea access to the Libyan capital.

However, rebel military spokesman Col Ahmed Bani confirmed that rebel forces had fallen back in the eastern oil port of Brega.

Brega, home to Libya's second-largest hydrocarbon complex and where oil from the country's main fields is refined, has repeatedly changed hands during the six-month-old conflict.

"Yesterday, the industrial zone was under our complete control, but the truth is that today the situation has changed due to heavy artillery shelling," Col Bani said on Saturday.

"We withdrew to the eastern part of the industrial zone."

Meanwhile, reports suggest fresh senior figures in the Gaddafi camp may have defected:

  • Abdel Salam Jalloud, who helped Col Gaddafi come to power in 1969 but fell out with him in the 1990s, is believed to be making his way to Europe from neighbouring Tunisia
  • Libyan Oil Minister Omran Abukraa failed to return to Libya on Thursday after a visit to Italy and went to Tunisia instead, Tunisian sources said

Libya's conflict broke out in February, inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt which toppled the presidents of those countries.

Rebels in the east rapidly consolidated their gains, but a stalemate developed in the west as rebels there faced overwhelming military force.

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