Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the location of Benghazi. Libya's second-largest city and an opposition stronghold is east of Tripoli, not west. This version has been corrected.
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Gunfire, new clashes in Tripoli as government offers money, pay hikes

Forces supporting the regime of Moammar Gaddafi in Libya were striking back at protesters in towns near Tripoli on Thursday. At least a dozen people were reported killed. (Feb. 24)

In Libya, as fighting between opposition groups and government paramilitary forces moved closer to the capital, there were new signs that what began as a disorganized rebellion was gaining strength and coherence. In Benghazi, some 600 miles east of the capital, a parallel government began to take shape that included citizen leaders as well as former government officials and military officers.

Rebel gains threatened to leave the Libyan leader's stronghold isolated. Forces loyal to Gaddafi appeared to have repelled their opponents in Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli, but residents of Misurata, a major town east of the capital, said that the streets were in rebel hands and that opposition members had rebuffed an attack by regime loyalists.

Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the death to keep his 41-year-old rule intact, and he made a direct appeal to Zawiyah's residents, telling them that protesters had been drugged and were under the influence of al-Qaeda. "Please do not disappoint me," Gaddafi said in a telephone call to the state-run radio station. "Otherwise each will take justice into his own hands to rid us of this darkness."

The turmoil in Libya continued to disrupt world oil markets and dominate international diplomacy as nations tried to evacuate their citizens and craft a response to the violence.

The Associated Press reported that a ferry chartered to evacuate American citizens to nearby Malta departed Friday after being blocked in port for three days because of high seas. A total of 167 Americans and 118 citizens of other countries were said to be on board.

Swiss officials said they were freezing any possible bank assets of Gaddafi and his close associates. The step was similar to one announced by Swiss authorities against the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt as they were ousted in rebellions.

In Washington, President Obama called British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy amid mounting criticism that the administration's quiet diplomacy is doing little to stop the Libyan government's violent reprisals.

A French government statement said Sarkozy and Obama "reiterated their demand for an immediate halt to the use of force against the civilian population." Sarkozy also called for a second urgent session of the U.N. Security Council to demand "immediate access to humanitarian assistance and to sanction those responsible for the violence against Libya's civilian population."

The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva will hold a special session Friday to address the Libyan revolt.

The council's European members are expected to lead the push for Libya's expulsion from the panel and support the first step in establishing a U.N.-sanctioned investigation of the violence that could end at the International Criminal Court. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to travel to Geneva on Monday for the council's regular session.

The extent of the fighting Thursday in Zawiyah could not be independently verified, but wire services and others, quoting witnesses, reported fierce clashes that included government fighters firing on a mosque where protesters had staged a sit-in. A local doctor quoted by the Associated Press said that at least 10 people were killed. Other reports put the death toll much higher.

With foreign media and observers having only scattered access to the country, details about conditions - particularly in Tripoli - have been sparse. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Gaddafi's son, appeared on state television Thursday and insisted that "life is normal." Reports that hundreds have been killed in the recent clashes were "a joke," he said.

But a different story was unfolding in Benghazi and other rebel-controlled towns. After knowing only the rule of Gaddafi and his clique of family and tribal allies for more than four decades, local lawyers, judges and others were rapidly forming oversight committees to keep basic services intact.

With entire units of the Libyan military having defected, there was also discussion of how best to push the rebellion into Tripoli, despite the concentration of Gaddafi's forces, family and top allies there.

Hundreds of young revolutionaries who freed Benghazi from Gaddafi's rule began heading toward Tripoli on Thursday but turned around, concluding it was too dangerous.

Mohammed Hamdi, a painter, was among the thousands of Egyptian workers who have fled Libya across the Tunisian and Egyptian borders in recent days. He said that even suburbs of the capital have become unsafe. Now at a makeshift refugee center in Tunisia, he said that as he left Tripoli on Thursday, a military officer stopped him and seized his cellphone and $300 in cash.

In the capital, "if you go out on the street, you will be attacked," he said.

Sly reported from Cairo and Schneider from Washington. Staff writers Scott Wilson in Washington, Anthony Faiola in Tunisia and Kathy Lally in Cairo contributed to this report.

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