Tripoli (Xinhua): The Libyan army has completely controlled the city of Zawiya, some 40 km to the west of Tripoli, after nearly a week of fierce battles with the anti-government forces who occupied the downtown for two weeks.
The central part of Zawiya was controlled by anti-government protestors after clashes on Feb. 24 and 25. The protestors defeated the army soldiers and captured five soldiers and a large number of weapons.
About 100 foreign journalists were allowed to get into the main square of Zawiya Friday afternoon after 3 days of official postponement for the reason of “safety”. Although the government announced that the army regained the city on March 5, dozens of ” armed individuals” remained resistant in the downtown for several days.
A number of tanks and soldiers were deployed in every corner of the main square, and bullet holes could be seen everywhere in the street. The top of the minaret of the main square mosque were blown off, a Xinhua correspondent said.
The building of Zawiya Jewel Hotel and national commerce bank have been severely destroyed by explosions and gunfire. A lower rank officer from the Libyan army told Xinhua that the “trouble makers”, or the armed insurgents, took the buildings as shelters to fight with troops.
Hundreds of citizens of Zawiya gathered in the main square to celebrate the “victory”, which was broadcasting live by the Libyan state TV. Some young men chanted the slogan of supporting Mummar Gaddafi, and soldiers fired guns into the air from time to time.
Hadi Sadia, a senior citizen in his 70s, told reporters that it is the first day the citizens are allowed in the main square. “The trouble makers have been driven out, We are very happy,” he said.
The old man said the armed insurgents were not from the city but from outside. “I was not scared for myself, but for my children.”
Sadia also denied heavy casualties during the fighting. ” Several civilians were wounded and sent to the hospital,” he said.
However, earlier reports said the casualties were more than 200.
Another citizen Shoucary Bashir in his 50s said the country should be in unity. “We should move forward, not backward. We hope to live in safety,” he said.
However, Bashir also recognized that the north African country needs reform. “The country is corrupted, the ministers are thieves, they stole our wealth, but it is not the fault of Gaddafi.”
“We need new government and constitution, the people in the east should sit down and talk with us,” he added.
Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim announced at a press conference on Friday that Libya has decided to suspend diplomatic ties with France.
He said that France has been “concentrating” on the division of Libya, adding that the government’s legitimacy did not “come from (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy’s mouth but from Libyan people. “
He also confirmed that the country is receiving a UN humanitarian aid committee next week to review the situation in Libya.
“The food and medicine is sufficient for six months,” he said, “We will continue to supply aids to the east.”
On the casualties of Zawiya battles, the official said 14 people were killed from both sides. Meanwhile, Khalid said that the army is cleaning the streets of Ras Lanuf and Brega, both of which are the strategic oil port cities on the east coast of Libya.