Residents fend off attack from Gaddafi loyalists
Residents of the rebel-held city closest to Libya's capital celebrated with a victory march yesterday after fighting off an overnight attack by Colonel Gaddafi's forces. But troops loyal to the longtime leader clamped down on a strategic mountain town as they fought to reclaim areas near Tripoli, according to witnesses.
As the fighting raged, the international community weighed up tough new measures to isolate the Libyan leader, including the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya.
American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bluntly warned that Libya was at risk of collapsing into a "protracted civil war" amid increasingly violent clashes between the two sides. International pressure to end the crackdown has escalated dramatically in the past few days.
America has moved naval and air forces closer to Libya this week and the Pentagon has confirmed that all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation's skies to protect its citizens from their ruler. The Obama administration is demanding that Gaddafi relinquish power immediately.
"In the years ahead, Libya could become a peaceful democracy, or it could face protracted civil war. The stakes are high," Mrs Clinton told Congress in Washington.
Meanwhile, witnesses in Zawiya said pro-Gaddafi forces fought pitched battles with rebels for six hours but could not retake control of the city 30 miles west of Tripoli. They said the last of several assaults by the Gaddafi loyalists came at around 3am local time.
The Zawiya rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Gaddafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties.
"We will not give up Zawiya at any price," said one witness. "We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero."
There was no word on casualties. But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has cited reports that perhaps 1,000 have died amid the popular uprising in the country.