LIBYA: Protesters battling government forces press toward Tripoli

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Opponents of Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi pressed their battles for control of major cities to the east and west of the capital, Tripoli, on Thursday, drawing gunfire from government troops as they fought in the town of Zawiya.

An eyewitness to the fierce clashes that began at dawn and raged through the day told the Al Jazeera news network that as many as 100 protesters had been killed and that 400 injured were jammed into the town’s hospital. Other news agencies cited much lower casualty tolls from witnesses to the fighting, but none could be independently verified in the country sealed off from Internet and most mobile and phone communications.


‘They were trying to kill the people, not terrify them,’ the network quoted the witness it identified only as Ali. He said Kadafi loyalists had aimed for the head and chest of the protesters when firing.

Al Arabiya network also reported from people who had fled to Tunisia from the coastal oil-terminal town that the streets were filled with gunfire and blood.

‘Lots of people in civilian clothes are firing at each other. They seem to be pro-Kadafi people and their enemies,’ said Mohamed Jaber, who traveled through Zawiya, 30 miles west of Tripoli, en route to Tunisia.

A Libyan army unit blasted Zawiya’s minaret, Al Jazeera reported. Troops loyal to Kadafi also waged a vain attempt to retake Misurata, the eastern coastal town that fell to the protesters Wednesday.

Kadafi declared on state-run television from an undisclosed location Thursday evening that the country was under the control of ‘the people.’ He blamed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for fomenting the unrest that has killed hundreds over the past week in the Arab world’s bloodiest confrontation in recent months.

--Carol J. Williams