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Sun, 12 Jun 2011 09:21 - Updated Sun, 12 Jun 2011 09:21

Libya conflict spreads to key oasis city: rebels


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Benghazi, Libya – Tribal fighters opposed to Moamer Kadhafi have clashed with the strongman's forces in the oasis city of Sabha, rebels said, as regime troops went on the offensive at key Libyan flashpoints.

The fresh wave of fighting comes as Turkey said it has offered Kadhafi guarantees to leave Libya and Russian envoy Mikhail Margelov said he would soon visit Tripoli to try to find a solution to the conflict.

Fighters of the Awlad Suleiman tribe, a rival to the Kadhafis, "liberated several streets" in Sabha, 800 kilometres (500 miles) south of Tripoli and a bastion of support for Kadhafi, the rebel National Transitional Council said on Saturday.

Kadhafi's forces opened fire, killing one man, the NTC said in a statement.

Sabha, with a population of some 100,000 people and home to an important military base, had until now been untouched by the unrest which has swept much of the north African oil-rich nation since a popular uprising against Kadhafi's four-decade authoritarian rule erupted mid-February.

Fighting in the important agricultural city famed for its Fort Elena castle followed two days of anti-Kadhafi protests there, the statement said, issued in the rebels' eastern capital Benghazi.

"Major protests began on Friday in the Mansheya district (of Sabha) ... with young people acclaiming the revolution of February 17, raising the flag of independence and demanding Kadhafi's departure," the statement said.

"Kadhafi loyalists, some in plain clothes, opened fire with live ammunition and two protesters were hit. They were taken to hospital where they were detained by Kadhafi's men," it added.

The rebels said pro-Kadhafi forces were on Saturday shelling the western city of Ghadames some 600 kilometres (370 miles) southwest of Tripoli, close to the borders with Tunisia and Algeria.

Known as the "pearl of the desert," the oasis boasts a UNESCO World Heritage site and is famous for its Roman-era ruins.

"The people of Ghadames appeal to UNESCO and international organisations to protect the ancient city," the rebels said in statement.

They also reported clashes on Friday and Saturday at Kekla and Bir al-Ghanem in the mountainous Jebel Nafussa region west of Tripoli where there has been weeks of fighting.