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Clashes as rebels enter Gaddafi citadel

North of Bani Walid/East of Sirte (Libya), Sept. 9 (Reuters): Fighters representing Libya’s new rulers entered one of the last towns loyal to ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi late today and said there was fighting on the streets.       

“They (anti-Gaddafi fighters) are in the north of the city fighting snipers. We have also entered from the east,” National Transition Council official Abdallah Kanshil said outside the desert town of Bani Walid.

The town, along with Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte and the desert city of Sabha are among the last places still outside of the control of the NTC, which drove Gaddafi from power last month.

Gaddafi loyalists earlier fired volleys of Grad rockets at fighters north of Bani Walid and east of Sirte, Reuters witnesses said. The NTC said it had also sent fighters south to Sabha.

The NTC had given Bani Walid, 150km southeast of Tripoli, and Sirte until tomorrow to give up peacefully or face attack in what could be some of the last battles in the six-month civil war.       

Previous deadlines have been extended to allow time for talks to avoid more bloodshed in a conflict which is believed to have claimed thousands of lives. Ambulances streamed back and forth with casualties from near Bani Walid, and NTC fighters grabbed crates of rocket-propelled grenades and mortars and raced to the front.        

In Teassain, 90km east of Sirte, Reuters witnesses saw heavy rocket exchanges between NTC forces and Gaddafi loyalists.       

Families trickled out of Bani Walid before the fighting intensified, belongings crammed into their cars. “I’m taking my family away from war,” said Khalid Ahmouda, stopping his car briefly to speak to Reuters. “They are afraid because there will be a big fight today or tomorrow.”       

His veiled wife, Oum Abdurahman, leaned from a window, holding her baby son. “There’s no power, no food, no water. Many people want to leave but have no fuel for their cars and Gaddafi forces are preventing people from leaving,” she said.

“They fire in the air to terrorise people. Today we managed to leave,” she said, adding that her brother-in-law was among 11 people killed on May 25 in a crackdown on townsfolk who had staged anti-Gaddafi protests.       

NTC officials at a checkpoint 30km from Bani Walid said Gaddafi fighters had been captured. Reuters witnesses saw some men driven away with their hands tied behind them, as well as two bodies, said to be Gaddafi fighters, in a pick-up truck.       

NTC fighters say that only about 150 well-armed Gaddafi loyalists are holed up in the town.

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