Loyalists in Gaddafi's hometown preparing for invasion
In the early hours of yesterday morning, groups of men paraded through the streets of Sirte, the town where Col Muammar Gaddafi grew up and which he has since built into a modern city.
Supporters, some as young as five, marched along the wide avenues shouting pro-Gaddafi slogans, holding posters of his photograph and waving green flags. Convoys of cars followed, blowing horns and playing pro-regime music loudly on the radio.
They are part of a mobilisation in Gaddafi's half of the country. Residents of Sirte and elsewhere are preparing to repel an invasion from the rebel-held east. Gaddafi claims that criminal gangs and Islamic fundamentalists have seized control there and that has become the rallying point.
"All the people are behind Gaddafi. Sirte is one of Libya's biggest cities and it is loyal in the face of problems with gangs," said Sameer al-Kiriani, a government minder.
"This is the centre point for all the people who love their country."
Sirte is braced for action. Checkpoints dot the main highways, manned by adolescents with newly issued Kalashnikov rifles.
At sensitive sites, such as power transformers, militias have been issued with heavy machine guns mounted on pickups. Inside the town, makeshift tents had been erected to provide shelter for loyalists.
Local men and militia in combat fatigues vowed to defend the regime with their lives last night. Daoud Jamma, an Arabic teacher, said he had signed up for a gun.
"I am here to save our country. We have to save it from these attacks," he said. "I will fight anyone who wants to take anything from my country."
While the preparations for war move into top gear, a government-sponsored peace initiative fizzled out within hours of its launch. A convoy of buses, headed by a group of Libya's powerful tribal leaders, and making their way to Benghazi, the rebel capital, had been reduced to a rump of just over a dozen chieftains between Tripoli and Sirte. The remnants vowed to press on after meeting in a seaside villa.
"Tribal chiefs represent the people of Libya. It is our role to settle disputes and criminal issues," said Abu Bakr, the head of the 25,000-strong Hassan tribe.
"If we cannot bring people together in both sides of the country there will be unending war."
As he spoke the sound of a slow-moving aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone buzzed overhead. (© Daily Telegraph, London)