Muammar Gaddafi loyalists staged a show of support in the Libyan capital today, claiming the rebel insurgency is nearing its end.
In the main square in Tripoli, several hundred came out for a government-sponsored rally, spraying the sky with gunfire and banging fireworks and waving green flags – the iconic Gaddafi regime colour.
They claimed that residents of rebel-held Benghazi, to the east, were also holding pro-Gaddafi demonstrations, though there was no proof of any such rallies.
The Tripoli gathering may have been organised in an attempt to reassure Libyan residents that the regime was still standing strong.
The rally came after rumours emerged that Gaddafi’s wife and daughter had fled Tripoli.
Libya’s deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim denied the reports, saying: “They are in Tripoli, they are safe.” He also denied that oil minister Shukri Ghanem had defected, saying he was in Vienna on business.
The Tripoli demo came the day after the Libyan leader’s forces intensified their campaign to take strategic heights in a western mountain range and targeted a road that many people have used to flee the fighting.
Much of the fighting in the mountain range – which has forced a temporary closure of the border with Tunisia – centred around the town of Yafrin, and residents and rebel fighters said that Gaddafi forces were using Grad missiles and rockets in their nearly month-long siege. Residents, trapped in their homes, were cut off from food and medical supplies, they said.
In nearby Zintan, however, rebels repelled an advance by Gaddafi’s forces, killing eight and taking one prisoner, a local activist said.
To the west of the contested Nafusa mountain range, which is home to ethnic Berbers, Libyan shelling forced the closure of the so-called Wazen passage, which is a route people fleeing Libya have used to get to Tunisia. Jaber Naluti, a volunteer who has been trying to assist people in the area, said seven rebels were killed.
Reports from the area said that some of the shells fell inside Tunisia. Tunisian jet fighters flew over the area but didn’t fire, witnesses said. They said the passage was reopened on Wednesday.
Although Gaddafi’s forces control most of the west, rebels have linked up with the minority Berbers to keep his forces out of the highest points of the Nafusa mountains, denying them a military advantage.
The United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator for Libya said 1.6 million people inside the North African country need aid because fighting has disrupted basic services and depleted food and medical stocks.
Panos Moumtzis, who is based in Geneva, said an additional 500,000 who have crossed borders to Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the region also need