Mon, Jun 13, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Libya conflict spreads to key city

REALPOLITIK:The International Crisis Group said the rebels’ position of no talks as long as Qaddafi remains would worsen ‘economic and humanitarian conditions’

AFP, BENGHAZI, LIBYA

Tribal fighters opposed to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi have clashed with the strongman’s forces in the oasis city of Sabha, rebels said, as regime troops went on the offensive in key Libyan flashpoints.

The fresh wave of fighting comes as Turkey said it had offered Qaddafi guarantees to leave Libya and Russian envoy Mikhail Margelov said he would soon visit Tripoli to try to find a solution to the conflict.

Fighters of the Awlad Suleiman tribe, a rival to the Qaddhafi’s, “liberated several streets” in Sabha, 800km south of Tripoli and a bastion of support for Qaddafi, the rebel National Transitional Council said on Saturday.

Sabha, with a population of about 100,000 people and home to an important military base, had until now been untouched by the unrest which has swept much of the north African oil-rich nation since a popular uprising against Qaddafi’s four-decade authoritarian rule erupted in mid-February.

Fighting in the important agricultural city famed for its Fort Elena castle followed two days of anti-Qaddafi protests there, the statement said, issued in the -rebels’ eastern capital Benghazi.

“Major protests began on Friday in the Mansheya district [of Sabha] ... with young people acclaiming the revolution of Feb. 17, raising the flag of independence and demanding Qaddafi’s departure,” the statement said.

The rebels said pro-Qaddafi forces shelled the western city of Ghadames some 600km southwest of Tripoli on Saturday, close to the borders with Tunisia and Algeria.

Known as the “pearl of the desert,” the oasis boasts a UNESCO World Heritage site and is famous for its Roman-era ruins.

“The people of Ghadames appeal to UNESCO and international organizations to protect the ancient city,” the rebels said in statement.

They also reported clashes on Friday and Saturday at Kekla and Bir al-Ghanem in the mountainous Jebel Nafussa Region west of Tripoli where there has been weeks of fighting.

The rebels, who control vast swaths of eastern Libya as well as the city of Misrata and a sprinkling of towns in the west, also reported fighting at Dafnia near Misrata on Saturday.

A rebel said that on Friday, 20 people were killed as Qaddafi’s forces had bombarded the Dafnia area with Grad rockets, heavy artillery and tank shells.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government had offered exit “guarantees” to the embattled Libyan leader, who rebels have been trying to oust since February following a bloody crackdown on pro-reform protests.

Tripoli last week saw the most intense NATO air raids since the international military campaign began on March 19 under a UN mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

In Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s special envoy Margelov said he would visit Tripoli to try to find a solution to the conflict, having met the opposition in their Benghazi stronghold.

The rebels have rejected any talks with the regime unless Qaddafi first steps down.

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