East Libya oil town calm after rebels claim it

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:12 PM
East Libya oil town calm after rebels claim it

By Mohammed Abbas

RAS LANUF, Libya (Reuters) - The eastern Libyan oil town of Ras Lanuf, which rebels say is now in out of Muammar Gaddafi's control, was calm with the rebel flag flying above it on Saturday a day after a battle for control.

A day earlier, flashes and thuds had resounded from fighting around the area of Ras Lanuf, a major oil terminal of the OPEC producer that sits on the Mediterranean coast. Helicopters had strafed positions of rebels, who fired rifles back.

At a checkpoint at the entrance to the town on Saturday, there was a rebel checkpoint, manned by half a dozen soldiers. Asked if rebels were in charge of the whole town, one soldier replied: "Everything, 100 percent, it is completely safe."

There was no sign of Gaddafi loyalists in the town or immediate area, although the Libyan government had on Friday disputed the rebels' claim to have taken the town.

Hoisted over a roundabout in the town was the Libyan flag that pre-dates the military coup that brought Gaddafi to power four decades ago, the symbol adopted by the rebels.

"We control Ras Lanuf, the port, airport, the oil company and the residential area," said Ahmed Aljili, a rebel fighter in Ras Lanuf.

A little before the entrance of the town there was also rebel checkpoint near one oil installation, manned by up to a dozen rebels armed with light weapons.

Inside Ras Lanuf, the town was a scene of calm in the early morning. About 25 people were queuing for bread.

"It's not a normal situation, but you have to be prepared for this situation. I am very pleased, we all are. We are finished with Gaddafi," said Saleh Mohamed, 37, works as an administrator in an oil firm.

(Writing by Edmund Blair in Cairo; editing by Mark Heinrich)