Libya: Gadhafi forces show growing confidence
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 12:16 AM
ZAWIYA, Libya -- Moammar Gadhafi's regime showed growing confidence Friday after retaking a strategic near Tripoli following days of relentless shelling against protesters-turned-rebels as it strengthened its hold on the capital and surrounding areas.
Government forces also captured a key oil town in the east and fought to dislodge rebels who took refuge among towering storage containers of crude oil and gas in nearby facilities.
Zawiya's main square, which had been a key center of resistance to the west of the capital, bore the scars of battle and the streets were lined with tanks as loyalists waving green flags rallied amid a heavy presence of uniformed pro-Gadhafi troops and snipers. There was talk of rebel bodies having been bulldozed away, and the dome and minaret of the nearby mosque were demolished.
With Gadhafi's men also on the march against rebels in the east, Western nations appeared in disarray over how to stop the bloodshed.
President Barack Obama said a no-fly zone over Libya to protect the civilian population from the Gadhafi regime's fighter jets remains a possibility as "we are slowly tightening the noose" around Gadhafi, but he stopped short of moving toward military action.
He cited actions already taken, including getting American citizens and embassy workers out of the country, slapping tough United Nations sanctions on Libya and seizing $30 billion in Gadhafi's assets.
The European Union, meanwhile, said a no-fly zone would need diplomatic backing from international organizations like the Arab League, which was to discuss situation in Libya on Saturday in Cairo.
The capture of Zawiya, a coastal city of about 200,000 people that is located near an oil port and refineries, seals off a corridor around the capital and solidifies the government's control over the western third of the country to the border with Tunisia. The government still faced a rebel challenge in Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli.
The government had claimed victory in Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, on Wednesday, but the rebels who are seeking to oust Gadhafi said fighting was ongoing.
An Associated Press reporter, who was taken by the government with other journalists into the city on Friday, said the city was clearly in government control, with Libyan soldiers manning tanks and trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns.
Grim evidence of battle was everywhere. A makeshift clinic that had been set up inside the mosque to treat the injured was destroyed and the floor was covered with rubble, shoes and glass while the roof was punctured with a large hole where the dome had been.
The facades of buildings, including banks and hotels overlooking Martyrs' Square, were devastated, the streets were strewn with shattered glass and several palm trees had been burned or uprooted.