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Monday, June 13, 2011

Libyan TV broadcasts footage of Qaddafi as his forces fight rebels at Brega

Libyan state television late Sunday broadcast pictures of leader Muammar Qaddafi meeting the president of the international chess federation.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is also a former Russian provincial governor, as saying he played a game of chess in Tripoli on Sunday with Mr. Qaddafi, according to Reuters.

He said the Libyan leader told him he had no intention of leaving the country.

Rebels fighting against Colonel Qaddafi, meanwhile, launched an offensive on Sunday to retake the oil town of Brega but were repelled in a battle which killed at least four fighters, rebels and doctors said.
Medics at the Al Jalaa hospital in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi reported early on Monday having the busiest night in weeks treating the wounded.

They said fighting has intensified after a long period of stalemate on the eastern Libyan front.

At least four rebels were killed in fighting in a location between Brega and Ajdabiyah, rebels said. At least 65 were wounded, doctors at the hospital said late on Sunday.

“We attacked them first but they attacked us back. We tried to get to Brega but that was difficult,” Haithan Elgwei, a rebel fighter who had returned from the front with the wounded, said.

“We had 130 fighters. They had more. It was a heavy fight,” he told Reuters as medics rushed the wounded through the hospital’s crowded corridors.

Outside, crowds shouted “The people want the fall of the regime” and fired shots into the air. Libya has an estimated population of six million people.

Qaddafi’s troops and rebel forces have been deadlocked for weeks between the eastern towns of Ajdabiyah and the Qaddafi-held oil town of Brega.

“It was quiet for weeks but today is the busiest day in a month or more. Today is very busy. There was a lot of fighting near Brega, a big fight,” Mukhamed Khattab, a doctor in an intensive care unit treating 15 fighters, said.

The total of wounded was not immediately clear because many had been taken to other hospitals, including those in Ajdabiyah. At least one dead body was seen by Reuters in the Benghazi hospital's autopsy room.

“NATO (aircraft) were covering us from above but Gaddafi troops fired rockets and mortars outside Brega,” Akram, 24, another wounded fighter, said.

Surrounded by his uniformed colleagues and squinting with pain from a wounded arm, he added defiantly:

“We will not retreat. We look forward to taking Tripoli.”

After the nationwide rebellion against Mr. Qaddafi’s 41-year rule erupted in February, his security forces snuffed out the rebels in Zawiyah, a prelude to the revolt elsewhere in Libya losing its initial momentum.

Three months later, the war has shifted again, with the 69-year-old colonel’s grip on power weakened by defections, the impact of sanctions on supplies and NATO air strikes that have struck his compound in Tripoli.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, in an interview with Reuters, said there was a growing confidence that Gaddafi's “days are numbered.”

The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, said it had recognized the rebel Transitional National Council, based in Benghazi, joining a small but growing list of states which view the council as Libya’s legitimate representatives.

Mr. Qaddafi has called the NATO intervention with warplanes and attack helicopters an act of colonial aggression aimed at grabbing Libya's plentiful oil.

In Tripoli residents have told Reuters of anti-Qaddafi protests, though these have been quickly dispersed by his security forces.

“The districts of Tripoli are waiting for a signal so they can all rise up together,” said a resident of the city who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals.

NATO member states are keen for a quick resolution in Libya because their voters do not want another long, costly conflict along the lines of those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Abeer Tayel, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English

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