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Africa
Libya protesters control Zawiyah
Tanks have surrounded Libyan city as residents brace for raid by pro-Gaddafi forces at any moment.
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2011 02:47 GMT
Protesters chant slogans outside the burnt governor's office in Zawiyah [Reuters]

Forces loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have surrounded the city of Zawiyah, where anti-government protesters are bracing for an attack.

Men opposed to Gaddafi were patrolling the streets of the city 50km from the capital on Sunday, saying they had seized weapons and even tanks which they would use to defend themselves.

Ezeldina, a Zawiyah resident, told Al Jazeera that people in the city had raided some military camps.

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"We are expecting an attack at any moment," he said. "We are forming rotating watch groups, guarding the neighbourhood."

Protesters said about 2,000 troops loyal to Gaddafi had surrounded the city. 

"If we are fighting for freedom, we are ready to die for it," said a former police major who had switched sides and joined the uprising which started about 10 days ago.

Speaking anonymously, he said more than 2,000 police had defected and were ready to defend Zawiyah. There were also army defectors, he said, but it was unclear how many.

Pro-Gaddafi rally

Government forces manned several checkpoints between the capital and Zawiyah, and supporters of the Libyan leader demonstrated in the Harsha district, 5km from the centre of Zawiyah.

Police stations and government offices inside the city have been torched and anti-Gaddafi graffiti painted of walls.

Hundreds of protesters in the city centre chanted "Gaddafi Out". Some stood on top of a captured tank, while others crowded around an anti-aircraft gun. Women stood on top of buildings cheering on the men in the crowd below.

An effigy of Gaddafi hung from a light pole in the main square.

A group of foreign journalists were driven to Zawiyah by Libyan authorities on Sunday to show that forces loyal to Gaddafi still held the town. But once there, it was evident that the protesters were in control.

A doctor at a makeshift clinic in the town mosque said 24 people had been killed in fighting with government loyalists over the past three days, and a small park next to the main square had been turned into a burial ground.

Residents gave accounts of fierce fighting for control of the town against pro-Gaddafi paramilitaries who were
armed with heavy weapons. Some said they were using rocket-propelled grenades.

Bullet holes pock-marked charred buildings in the city, while burned-out vehicles lay abandoned.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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