Libya conflict: Rockets fired from Bani Walid

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Media captionRichard Galpin witnessed the rockets being fired near Bani Walid

Forces loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi have fired rockets from Bani Walid, one of the last strongholds of the fugitive Libyan leader.

Rockets landed near those surrounding the town ahead of a Saturday deadline for loyalists to surrender.

Earlier, Col Gaddafi gave a defiant message dismissing speculation that he had fled to Niger.

The central bank, meanwhile, said 1.7bn Libyan dinars ($1.4bn; £875m) worth of gold had been sold during the conflict.

Col Gaddafi's whereabouts remain the subject of speculation - though both the National Transitional Council (NTC) and Western officials have said they have no reason to believe he has left Libya.

The NTC has been trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution to stand-offs in a handful of Libyan towns or cities still controlled by Gaddafi loyalists.

These include Bani Walid, Jufra, Sabha and Col Gaddafi's birthplace of Sirte.

'Trivial mercenaries'

The rocket fire around Bani Walid followed skirmishes near the desert town, which lies about 90 miles (140km) south-east of Tripoli.

The missiles, which NTC forces said were Grad rockets, landed in Wadi Dinar, about 20km from Bani Walid.

A pro-NTC commander about 150km north-west of Sirte said forces there were awaiting the ultimatum for the end of negotiations on Saturday.

"Until then, we won't move. We will defend ourselves if attacked, but that is all," Rafa al-Jeibi told AFP news agency.

Officials in Niger have said that in recent days at least three convoys carrying Gaddafi loyalists have crossed into their country from Libya.

That led to rumours that Col Gaddafi might follow the same route.

An NTC spokesman, Fathi Baja, said transitional authorities had sent a team to the capital of Niger, Niamey, to discuss the possible arrival of Col Gaddafi.

A spokeswoman for the US state department, Victoria Nuland, said she understood that Gaddafi aides who had arrived in the convoys were being "held... and monitored closely" in Niamey.

In his phone message, which was broadcast on Syria's Al-Rai TV, Col Gaddafi dismissed as lies and psychological warfare the speculation that he had fled south.

He also said he would still be able to defeat his opponents.

"The youths are now ready to escalate attacks against 'rats' in Tripoli and everywhere to eliminate the mercenaries. They are trivial. Their masters will abandon them," said the fugitive ousted leader.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking the arrest of Col Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his former intelligence chief Abdullah Sanussi.

On Thursday ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he was asking Interpol to issue a "red notice" against Col Gaddafi "for the alleged crimes against humanity of murder and persecution".

An Interpol red notice seeks the provisional arrest of a wanted person with a view to extradition or surrender to an international court, based on an arrest warrant or court decision.

Concerns about arms

NTC officials said the gold reserves that were sold went to local merchants in April or May, and the money used to cover salaries.

The sales represented about 20% of Libya's gold reserves, said interim central bank governor Qassim Azzuz.

"No gold has been stolen from the central bank of Libya, or currency," he said.

"Some of the gold reserve was used to generate cash to deal with the situation inside Tripoli. But it should be known that the previous regime has money outside our banking system."

Around Tripoli, stockpiles of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, grenades and rockets have been found in unguarded warehouses, raising fears that they could fall into the hands of Gaddafi loyalists or Islamist militants.

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