Libyan revolutionary forces battle Gadhafi loyalists
Fighters clash in former regime stronghold
Forces loyal to Libya's late leader Moammar Gadhafi attacked the former regime stronghold of Bani Walid on Monday, killing at least four fighters from the new government, officials and residents said.
The fierce clashes in the town, located some140 kilometres southeast of Tripoli, comes as the Libya's new leaders struggle to stamp out lingering resistance from pro-Gadhafi forces and unify a deeply fractured country after eight months of civil war and more than 40 years of authoritarian Gadhafi rule.
Mahmoud al-Warfali, a spokesman for revolutionary brigade of the new regime in Bani Walid, said up to 150 pro-Gadhafi fighters raised his old green Libyan flag at the northern gate of the town and were battling revolutionary forces in the streets with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s.
"These are Gadhafi remnants who tried to take over the city," al-Warfali said. "They have tried to do this before and take over the interim government's office, but thank God we have been able to fight them off."
He said four revolutionary fighters were killed. He did not know how many people were wounded.
Bani Walid resident Moussa al-Warfali said the clashes began early Monday when Gadhafi loyalists angry over the arrest of one of their men attacked revolutionary fighters in the town.
The fighting originally was centred around the revolutionary brigade's base, but has since spread to other parts of the town.
Gadhafi loyalists open fire in Tripoli
The clashes are considered serious enough that dozens of revolutionary fighters from Tripoli have been dispatched to Bani Walid to help, said brigade commander Saddam Abdel-Zein.
Revolutionary commanders in Tripoli also said "sleeper cells" loyal to Gadhafi opened fire in the capital Monday evening in an attempt to take advantage of the fighting in Bani Walid. There was no word of casualties.
Abdel-Rahman al-Soghayar, a commander from the new regime in the capital, said shooting took place in several neighbourhoods of Tripoli Monday evening, forcing people to remain indoors and stores to close early.
There were also reports of shooting in the western Nafusa mountains, according to al-Soghayar, who was in touch with fellow fighters there. No further details were available.
The outbreak of violence prompted revolutionary fighters in the western city of Misrata and the eastern city of Benghazi to declare a high alert, setting up check points and securing entrance points to the cities, according to Benghazi military officials and Misrata's revolutionary brigade spokesman, Walid Khashif.
The main flashpoint remained Bani Walid, where pro-Gadhafi fighters have long tormented Libya's revolutionaries.
After the fall of Tripoli to anti-Gadhafi fighters in August, loyalists of the ousted regime took refuge in the town and held off revolutionary forces for weeks, using the surrounding mountains and valleys to pick off revolutionary forces.
Even after Gadhafi's capture and killing in October, the city and its surrounding region have troubled Libya's new leaders.
In November, 15 soldiers were killed in an ambush by Gadhafi loyalists just outside the town. Revolutionary fighters in Bani Walid have complained that the country's interim government has done little to help secure the city.