By Barry Malone
By Barry Malone
October 15, 2011
TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s new government beefed up security in Tripoli on Saturday with extra roadblocks and house-to-house searches after fighting in the capital with supporters of Muammar Gaddafi raised fears of an insurgency.
At most a few dozen pro-Gaddafi fighters appeared on Friday in only a few neighbourhoods of the city which are known to be sympathetic to the deposed ruler.
But it was still the first sign of armed resistance to the National Transitional Council in Tripoli since its forces seized the city in August and ended Gaddafi’s 42 years of one-man rule.
Government forces mounted an increased number of roadblocks across the city, but especially in and around Abu Salim, an area of run-down apartment blocks.
Pick-up trucks with heavy weapons were stationed inside the district, firing occasional volleys over the houses to make their presence felt. NTC foot soldiers searched the buildings, but there were no further clashes on Saturday.
“During the war Gaddafi hid guns among the people here,” said Ziyad, an NTC fighter. He said he and his comrades had found five AK47 assault rifles hidden in a water tower on the top of one of the buildings and another two in the basement.
Residents said fighting broke out when a group of up to 50 armed men had appeared in the Abu Salim district on Friday and at least one other nearby area and chanted pro-Gaddafi slogans.
Hundreds of NTC fighters in pick-up trucks shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) careered towards the Abu Salim neighbourhood, a repository of support for Gaddafi, and the two sides exchanged rifle and heavy machinegun fire.
Two Gaddafi supporters and one NTC fighter were killed in the violence, NTC official Abdel Razak al Oraidi told a news conference in the capital.
Since he went into hiding after rebel forces captured Tripoli on August 23, Gaddafi has released a number of audio recordings calling on loyalists to fight back.
But the former strongman has not been seen and is thought to be hiding somewhere in the vast Libyan desert.
His supporters however are still holding out in his hometown Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast in the centre of the country, and in Bani Walid, a town southeast of Tripoli.
Government forces kept up their bombardment of a small area in the centre of Sirte on Saturday with Grad multiple rocket launchers, as well as tanks and anti-aircraft guns, but there was little sign of a major push under way from the infantry.
NTC militia have besieged Sirte for weeks, only slowly tightening their grip to the point where now Gaddafi die-hards are surrounded in an area of about two sq km (a sq mile). Green flags, the banner of Gaddafi’s rule, still fly over the area.
The often chaotic struggle has cost scores of lives and left thousands homeless.
The failure to seize the final Gaddafi bastions has also held up the attempt by Libya’s new leaders to try to build a democratic government, a process they say will begin only after Sirte is captured.
“It is taking so long because the area is crowded with buildings and there is a large number of them; between 400 to 500 Gaddafi men,” said Hussein Alteir, a brigade commander in Sirte.
NTC officers say Gaddafi loyalists fear reprisals if they surrender — some captured fighters have been abused.
A Medecins Sans Frontieres doctor at Sirte’s Ibn Sina hospital estimated there were still some 10,000 people marooned by the fighting in the city of 75,000 residents. Many of those trapped are women and children and some are sick or injured.
“In the past few days, the patients haven’t been able to receive proper medical care, due to a shortage of doctors and due to the lack of water,” said Gabriele Rossi. “The wounds of some patients are really bad and very infected.”
Photograph by: Reuters/Thaier al Sudani