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Libya eyes symbolic coup in Kadhafi birthplace

by Jay Deshmukh

QASR ABU HADI, October 3, 2011 (AFP) - Fighting raged for Moamer Kadhafi's birthplace on Monday as Libya's new leaders eyed a symbolic victory in their battle to eradicate the last vestiges of his 42-year rule.

Commanders of the advancing National Transitional Council troops said they now controlled most of Qasr Abu Hadi, the small town where Kadhafi was born in a nomad tent in 1942 when it was still a tiny desert hamlet.

It was the latest in a string of loyalist communities to be mopped up by NTC troops in recent days as they close in on the toppled despot's diehard fighters in the centre of coastal city of Sirte, 20 kilometres (12 miles) to the north.

Medics said they had been warned an all-out assault was imminent even as an international Red Cross team headed into the city centre to deliver desperately needed medical supplies.

"Seventy-five percent of Qadr Abu Hadi is under our control," NTC field commander Mufbah Raslan told AFP.

"We have had three days of intense fighting. They have been attacking us with Grad rockets, machineguns and sniper fire," he said.

Qasr Abu Hadi prospered under the rule of its most famous son and Raslan said many of its residents were armed, posing fears of sniper fire for the advancing troops.

"One big problem we are facing is that many civilians have arms," he said.

"We are trying to get them (the weapons) out. Some of them are giving them to us but a lot of them still have them."

Residents spoke of their plight during the battle for the town.

"We couldn't sleep in the night for the last one week," said local sheep farmer Saadi Mohammed.

"There has been a lot of fighting. We have no water, no medicines, no electricity.

"A lot of people have already left. Some are dead. Some are still left behind."

At the main field hospital 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Sirte, medics said military commanders had told them to prepare for casualties from an all-out assault on the city centre.

"The Misrata Military Council just told me that today they are going to go in to take Sirte," said the hospital's chief medic, Dr Muad Ben Sasi, as orderlies set up a large new treatment tent as a precaution.

"My concern is for the International Committee of the Red Cross team going into the city," he added.

The ICRC team had headed into Sirte a little earlier carrying two truckloads of medical supplies, including oxygen and hygiene kits, as well as nappies, rice, pasta, cooking oil and tinned tomatoes.

"The coordinator (between NATO and NTC fighters) just came to see me and he said we can go in now," said team leader Hichem Khadhraoui.

Khadhraoui had spoken of a medical emergency in Sirte after leading a previous ICRC mission into the city on Saturday which came under rocket fire from advancing NTC troops.

"It's a dire situation," he told AFP afterwards. "Because of lack of oxygen and fuel for the generator, people are dying."

Several rockets hit the city's Ibn Sina hospital while the team was making its delivery as NTC troops battled Kadhafi loyalists around the Ouagadougou Conference Centre, a showpiece venue nearby where Kadhafi hosted the launch of the African Union.

US Senator John McCain called on Sunday for Washington to send urgent medical aid to help the thousands of people wounded in Libya.

"They've got thousands and thousands of wounded. They say that they've lost 25,000 people killed, 3,000 have been maimed, 60,000 injured. That's their government figures," the influential US lawmaker told CBS television's "Face the Nation" programme.

"We should be helping them," he said.

NATO said that its aircraft hit a multiple rocket launcher and an armed vehicle around Sirte on Sunday as streams of civilians poured out of the city to escape the fighting.

Hundreds of Sirte residents fled in packed vehicles, with some people sitting on top of possessions piled high in the rear of pick-ups.


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