ZAWIYAH, Libya (Reuters) - Fighting between Libyan troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and rebels broke out in the town of Zawiyah on Saturday, a resident said, shutting the coastal highway that links the capital Tripoli with Tunisia.
"The situation is very bad in Zawiyah. There's been fierce fighting since the morning between the Gaddafi forces and the rebels," said the resident, who gave only his first name, Mohammed, fearing reprisals.
A Reuters reporter trying to travel through the town was diverted via backstreets with a police escort. He said the highway was deserted except for a large number of soldiers, police and armed men in civilian clothes.
The road has been used throughout the four-month-old conflict by his officials to reach the outside world -- including fleeing defectors -- and by trucks bringing in food and other supplies to territory under Gaddafi's control.
Zawiyah was held by rebels early in the uprising against Gaddafi in February, but was recaptured by government forces in a crackdown in which scores of people died.
Rebels now hold the mountains to the southwest of Tripoli and the city of Misrata along the coastal road to the east, and ultimately want to encircle the capital and cut it off.
(Reporting by Peter Graff in Zawiyah and Tarek Amara in Tunis; writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Tim Pearce)