Libyan rebels battling the remnants of Muammar Gaddafi's forces in his remaining stronghold of Bani Walid have given residents there two days to leave before a threatened assault.
The warning came on Tuesday amid fears for the fate of civilians trapped in the last redoubts of Gaddafi, dislodged from power and now on the run after 42 years as leader of the oil-rich nation.
"I think only 10 per cent of the people are Gaddafi supporters. They are fanatics. And the rest are waiting to be liberated. We have given them two more days to leave the city," Abumuslim Abdu, a fighter with the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), told the Reuters news agency.
Forces of the NTC that overran the capital, Tripoli, on August 23 have met unexpectedly stiff resistance in five days of fighting for Bani Walid, 180km southeast of Tripoli.
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The town - along with Gaddafi's home city of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and Sabha in the remote southern desert - counts among the last strongholds of the former regime.
Residents fleeing Bani Walid have reported days of intense firefights, and NATO warplanes were backing up NTC fighters with air strikes on pro-Gaddafi rocket positions.
Families trapped there for weeks started to slip out after Gaddafi forces abandoned some checkpoints on the outskirts, and dozens of cars packed with civilians streamed out of the area on Monday and Tuesday.
Gaddafi's son transferred
Meanwhile, Saadi Gaddafi, the third son of the toppled leader, was transferred to the capital of Niger, Niamey, after being held in the city of Agadez after crossing the border among with other officials over the weekend.
Government spokesman Marou Amadou said just after midnight on Wednesday that Saadi Gaddafi was in Niamey.
Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Agadez, said he had been moved on a military aircraft under high security. "It seems they were trying to move him in the cover of darkness," she said. "They didn't want journalists there. In fact, many photographers had their cameras confiscated by the military police".
Three generals in Gaddafi's army are also in Niamey trying to gain political asylum for themselves and other members of Gaddafi's crumbling regime. They were in negotiations with Nigerien officials all day on Tuesday.
The NTC wants regime officials to be sent back. Saadi Gaddafi is the subject of a UN sanction for commanding a military unit that is accused of repression of demonstrations.
'Struggle until victory'
From an unknown hideout, Gaddafi urged his followers to keep up the fight. "It is not possible to give Libya to the colonialists again," he said in a statement read out on Syria-based Arrai Oruba television.
"All that remains for us is the struggle until victory and the defeat of the coup."
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The United Nations said it was worried about the plight of civilians stranded inside besieged pro-Gaddafi towns.
"Our big concern right now is Sirte, where we are receiving reports that there's no water and no electricity," Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief, told Reuters in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
Some NTC fighters said they suspected local forces of the Warfalla tribe, Libya's largest, were passing tips to Gaddafi forces in Bani Walid.
"We believe there are traitors among them," said Mohammed el Gahdi, from the coastal city of Khoms.
Ahmed Bani, the NTC military spokesman, told reporters the plan for Bani Walid for now was to wait.
"When our forces entered Bani Walid they found the brigades of Gaddafi using citizens as shields," he said, adding that missile launchers had been placed on the roofs of homes, making it difficult for NTC forces or NATO warplanes to strike.
Earlier, late on Tuesday, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the NTC, urged a cheering crowd in Tripoli to strive for a civil and democratic state.
Abdul-Jalil addressed a crowd of thousands in Martyr's Square, a site that until recently was famous for pro-Gaddafi rallies.
Flanked by a few dozen revolutionary leaders in their largest public gathering since their forces stormed the capital, the NTC chief called on Libyans to build a democratic state based on Islamic law.