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Bloody Battles, Gunfire Continue In Libyan Capital

LYNN NEARY, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Lynn Neary in for Liane Hansen.

Gunfire erupted this morning in Libya's capital, Tripoli. Government officials said the shots were fired in celebration for beating back rebel fighters in nearby cities. But the opposition says thats just propaganda. Some of the bloodiest battles yesterday occurred in Zawiyah, just to the west of Tripoli.

NPR's David Greene has the latest.

DAVID GREENE: Zawiyah is a coastal city on the road from the Tunisian border. It's only about 30 miles from Tripoli. Rebels seized control of the central part of Zawiyah early in the uprising against Gadhafi. Now, it seems very much up for grabs.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

GREENE: Video posted online showed a marketplace, identified as in Zawiyah yesterday. People were diving for cover amid gunfire. One of the few news organizations to reach Zawiyah, Britain's SKY News, interviewed a doctor who said a column of tanks moved onto the main square and government forces shot at will, including targeting him, as he was taking a victim to the hospital.

Unidentified Man #1: I was traveling in one of these ambulances and the Gadhafi army people were firing on us.

GREENE: Last night, the voice of another man in Zawiyah was recorded by a website called February 17 Voices. The site has been tweeting Libyans and recording their stories. The man said rebels had captured some anti-aircraft weapons from government forces. He said opponents of Gadhafi were digging in to defend Zawiyah.

Unidentified Man #2: The internet has been cut off for about two or three days now. The electricity was cut off last night for a couple of hours. But otherwise, everybody is holding place.

GREENE: Gadhafi's government, though, declared victory, releasing aerial footage seeming to show tanks controlling Zawiyah's main square. On state TV this morning were images of a pro-Gadhafi crowd in Tripoli's Green Square, reportedly from today. Government officials said the crowd was celebrating military successes like the one in Zawiyah.

While eastern Libya has been more accessible to journalists, the west has remained closed off. Thats meant relying more on unconfirmed accounts from residents, and the competing rhetoric from Gadhafi and the rebels.

We reached this man by phone yesterday in the city of Sabratha, just west of Zawiyah. He said he's a doctor; would only give his first name, Mabruk. He appealed for outside help to stop Gadhafi's attacks.

MABRUK: A quick action to stop these murders. No delay.

GREENE: He did say he was shaken by the bloody events in nearby Zawiyah.

(Soundbite of a crowd)

GREENE: While tens of thousands of migrant workers have been pouring out of Libya to escape the unrest, there've also been Libyans emerging at the Tunisian border. This man, who refused to give his name, drove across Friday to visit his wife in Tunisia. Gadhafi, he said, has done nothing but good for the people of Libya. He said news reports of battles to defeat the Libyan leader have been overblown.

Unidentified Man #3: (Through Translator) Everything is open. Everything is fine. Everything you see on the Libyan channel is what you see in real life. So they have been reporting everything accurately.

GREENE: But a very different message from Abdul Basset Issa, a rebel supporter who crossed the border yesterday and was grabbing lunch at a cafe. He listed cities and towns dotting central and western Libya, saying they were all under control of the rebels.

Mr. ABDUL BASSET ISSA (Rebel Supporter): There's a committee and they are in contact and they get all instruction from Benghazi - absolutely perfect.

GREENE: Society has even begun to change, he said. Feeling free of Gadhafi, citizens were being kinder to one another.

Mr. ISSA: The people, they saw a taste freedom. They start feeling - the children, the old people, the old ladies - they start feel like they get rid of the disease.

GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, Zarzis, Tunisia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.