Scores killed as Kadafi loyalists, rebels clash in Libyan port city of Zawiya
Scores of additional people were killed in the Libyan port city of Zawiya on Saturday, witnesses said, as Moammar Kadafi remained locked in fierce clashes with rebels on multiple fronts throughout the country.
Kadafi renewed his assault on Zawiya, 25 miles west of Tripoli, at 4 a.m. with tanks, bombings and militias, according to rebel organizer Salem Salem. “About 40 people died just this morning,” Salem said.
The rebels, he said, were able to hold the city but were anticipating yet another wave of attacks. “There are bodies everywhere. We have no ability to collect them,” Salem said.
Independent verification of the reports was impossible, however, and Kadafi’s government has asserted that significant portions of the city were in their control.
A reporter for Britain’s Sky news said a makeshift hospital set up in a mosque was overwhelmed. She said Kadafi forces near the hospital were firing on ambulances.
Meanwhile on the eastern front, rebels celebrated the taking of Ras Lanuf, a central oil port. Tawfiq Mangoosh, a rebel fighter, said government forces fled the city after hours-long clashes that left dozens dead on both sides.
The rebels said they were now heading farther east to Kadafi’s hometown of Surt, which is believed to be heavily fortified by government loyalists.
In Tripoli, government forces appeared to continue to squelch dissent. Hundreds of protesters challenged Kadafi’s hold on the capital Friday, chanting for his downfall after prayers in the Tajoura district, but at least 14 trucks carrying security forces rushed past checkpoints to respond within minutes.
The forces used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. Some witnesses said that the pro-government fighters used live ammunition, but the reports could not be independently verified.
Fighting also broke out in the city’s largest gathering place, Green Square. A Times reporter saw ambulances rushing injured people away, but it was unclear whether the demonstrations there were for or against the government.
Foreign journalists attempting to move around the city were stopped and aggressively searched by militiamen loyal to the longtime strongman.
“It is getting worse and worse here,” a 62-year-old businessman said by phone late Friday. “Tripoli has been completely hijacked. Every mosque has Kadafi’s thugs sitting in cars outside, and they stop anyone from speaking their mind.”
Arrests of government opposition figures continued in the city, he said.
“They are going to the homes of anyone believed to be against the government,” the businessman said. “My friend’s son did not even have time to put on his shoes before they took him away. We don’t know where he is now.”
Daragahi reported from Tripoli and Therolf from Cairo
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