Libya rebels take prime minister's hometown

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 27, 2011 12:14 PM
Libya rebels take prime minister's hometown

By Mohammed Abbas

JMAYL, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan rebels swept into the town of Jmayl on Saturday, consolidating their grip on areas to the west of Tripoli after forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi fled the home base of Libya's prime minister.

After a five-day standoff with Gaddafi loyalists in the town, about 100 rebels in pick-up trucks drove in, firing their guns wildly in the air in celebration and flashing V-for-victory signs.

"We were in Zuwarah and we have been trying to get here for five days," Shukri Zuwareh, a 42-year-old fighter, told Reuters, referring to a nearby town already in rebel hands.

Walls in Jmayl were daubed with the slogan "Only God and Muammar."

Gaddafi supporters are understood to have fled to the town as rebel forces rolled up areas to the south in Libya's Western Mountains in a campaign that eventually took them all the way to Tripoli.

Jmayl was one of a number of pockets of Gaddafi loyalists that remain in parts of Libya despite the rebel advance.

The two sides had been negotiating for days in an attempt to end the stand-off over Jmayl and arrange prisoner swaps, but talks had foundered in an atmosphere of mistrust.

"There were soldiers in the town and supporters of Gaddafi. We spread a rumor three days ago during the talks that we would free Jmayl today," Zuwareh said.

Rebels said Jmayl had been a stronghold for Gaddafi loyalists in the west and was the hometown of Libyan prime minister Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, who recently left the country and was seen five days ago on the southern Tunisian island of Djerba.

The rebels said the Gaddafi loyalists had fled Jmayl, a small dusty desert settlement whose inhabitants welcomed the rebels with V-for-victory signs.

At the town hospital, two wounded rebel fighters were brought in for treatment, along with one man who had been held prisoner by the Gaddafi forces before they left.

One fighter described the climate of suspicion that clouded negotiations.

"Yesterday there was a Gaddafi loyalist in his car ahead of us. We shouted at him to stop and put down his weapon," said Mohammed al-Mansouri, a 23-year-old fighter.

"He got out and made like he was putting it down, then he suddenly picked it up and sprayed us with gunfire.

"So we had to shoot him dead."

(Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Andrew Heavens)