4 March 2011
Last updated at 12:12 ET
A fierce battle has been raging in the key Libyan city of Zawiya, after loyalist forces launched an operation to retake it from rebels, reports say.
Heavy casualties are reported, with one witness telling Reuters news agency up to 50 people were dead.
Fierce fighting was also reported in the oil port of Ras Lanuf, while in the capital, Tripoli, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters.
Rebels aiming to end Col Gaddafi’s 41-year rule still hold other areas.
Dead and injured
Reports from Zawiya said the most senior rebel commander in the city was among those killed.
One resident told BBC Arabic TV that many people had died when a peaceful demonstration came under fire.
A second Reuters witness said he had just come from the hospital and many people were lying dead and injured.
On the scene
There were violent scenes here, just on the outskirts of Tripoli. This is significant because, of course, Col Gaddafi insists that everybody, especially in the country near Tripoli, loves him and that there are no protests.
What we saw today after Friday prayers was a vociferous protest by anti-Gaddafi demonstrators. Then, all of a sudden, pro-government militia and police came in vehicles screeching into the centre of the suburbs, firing dozens of tear gas canisters and baton rounds.
The scene was chaotic as people ran away but then they came back, shouting anti-Gaddafi slogans.
We knew that Fridays are always significant because a lot of the anti-government protesters gather in and around the mosque and come out into the streets. But this is proof that this isn’t just an uprising in the east and perhaps the west of the country, but there are significant elements in and near Tripoli that are opposed to the regime.
Despite the considerable risks they are running, they are prepared to protest and demand the end of a man who has ruled this country for 42 years.
“We have counted 30 dead civilians,” he said. “The hospital was full. They could not find space for the casualties.”
Libyan state television said the town had been retaken by pro-Gaddafi forces, although later reports spoke of “pockets of resistance”.
Reports from the port of Ras Lanuf meanwhile described the sound of multiple explosions and heavy artillery. Opposition fighters had reportedly advanced on the city. Pro-Gaddafi forces withdrew to Ras Lanuf two days ago after a battle.
Rebels later said they had seized the airport at Ras Lanuf, but there was no independent confirmation.
In Tripoli, the BBC’s Wyre Davies in the suburb of Tajoura said security forces fired dozens of canisters of tear gas and baton rounds at protesters who had gathered on the streets after Friday prayers.
Secret police had tightened security in the area earlier, and Gaddafi loyalists set up traffic checkpoints.
Protests last week after Friday prayers in several districts of the city ended in bloodshed when government forces fired on civilians, witnesses have said.
Pro-Gaddafi militias have been roaming Tripoli in civilian cars, according to residents.
A wave of detentions, killings and disappearances has been reported in the city in recent days, and bodies of missing people have reportedly been left in the street.
Jon Leyne reports from Benghazi, as Libyan rebels prepare to take the west of the country
In other developments:
- A Libyan warplane bombed the rebel-held Mediterranean port town of Ajdabiya, narrowly missing a munitions dump
- Gaddafi forces carried out the second air raid in as many days on the nearby key rebel-held harbour of Brega, home to the country’s second-largest oil facility, Al Arabiya news network reported
- Several hundred mercenaries from the Tuareg community in the north African country of Mali have just joined government forces, a senior Malian official told the BBC
- Interpol issued an “orange alert” relating to Col Gaddafi and 15 other Libyans, saying it would help member states enforce sanctions against them
Libya’s second city, Benghazi, remains in rebel hands. The leader of the opposition National Libyan Council reportedly told cheering crowds in the city they would not give up.
“We are people who fight, we don’t surrender,” former Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who went over to the opposition last month, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
“Victory or death. We will not stop till we liberate all this country.”
The UN refugee agency UNHCR has meanwhile expressed new concern that people trying to flee into Tunisia may be finding their way blocked by armed pro-government forces, after a sudden drop in the numbers crossing the border.
Victory or death – we will not stop till we liberate all this country”
At least 10,000 people a day were crossing the border earlier in the week, but the number suddenly fell to fewer than 2,000 on Thursday, the agency says.
“Many of those who have crossed the border appear to be frightened and are unwilling to speak,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
“We believe that has implications – that they may have been intimidated in some way.”
Tens of thousands of people, most of them migrant workers, have streamed to the border since the unrest began, sparking a humanitarian crisis.
The European Union’s humanitarian aid commissioner has demanded that Libya allow help into the country, citing increasing concerns over the situation of refugees in border areas, AFP reported.
Gaddafi fights back in key city