LIBYAN forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi killed and wounded rebels trying to advance on Tripoli and claimed to have recaptured a town close to the capital, rebel and government sources said.

A doctor at one of the hospitals in rebel-held territory, where casualties were being treated from the fierce clashes round the refinery town of Raslanuf, said there were “many dead and wounded” by rocket fire from loyalist defenders.

Heavy explosions and machine-gun fire could be heard in the Libyan desert 10 kilometres east of Raslanuf, between Tripoli and the rebels’ main centre of Benghazi, as truck loads of armed insurgents headed in that direction accompanied by ambulances, an AFP reporter said.

“They are firing Grad rockets. I saw four people killed in front of me. A rocket hit them,” said a rebel, who gave his name only as Marai.

“They deployed a helicopter,” he added, in reference to pro-Kadhafi forces. Asked why he was driving away from the front he said: “I don’t have a weapon.”

We saw people dying everywhere,” another rebel volunteer, Abdul Rauf, told AFP on his way back from the front in a bloodstained vehicle.

After an hour, the shelling and gunfire became more intermittent, but there were conflicting reports about how much land the rebels may have captured.

Meanwhile, Libyan television reported that government forces had retaken Zawiyah, a middle-class dormitory town 60 kilometres west of Tripoli, from the rebel.

The reports said local rebel leader Hussein Darbuk and his deputy had been killed and other leaders captured, along with tanks, troop carriers and other weaponry.

From the capital correspondents could see half-a-dozen Chinook twin-rotor transport helicopters flying towards and away from Zawiyah.

However, a local militant politician in the town vehemently denied the report and said opposition forces were still in control.

Mohammed Qassem said in a live interview on Al-Jazeera television however that Zawiyah was surrounded by pro-Kadhafi forces and three people had been killed.

A government official later said there were still “pockets of resistance” in Zawiyah.

Earlier police fired tear gas at some 100 anti-regime demonstrators in the Tajoura neighbourhood in eastern Tripoli after Friday prayers, a witness said. Another said regime opponents and supporters traded blows near the capital’s Green Square.

Police fired in the air and sealed off the area but did not intervene otherwise, the second witness said.

A patchwork coalition of rebels controls eastern Libya and some towns in the west following a revolt that started on February 15, but Kadhafi retains his grip on the capital.

In Misrata, a rebel-held pocket closer to Tripoli, one person was killed late Thursday amid heavy firing by pro-Kadhafi forces in a bid to recapture the town, a witness said.

The UN refugee agency said yesterday that fewer than 2000 people had crossed the border into Tunisia on Thursday, compared with between 10,000 and 15,000 on previous days, citing the presence of heavily armed Gaddafi forces.

Those who did manage to cross told the UNHCR “their mobile phones had been confiscated en route, along with cameras,” spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said in Geneva. “Many of those who have crossed the border appear to be frightened and are unwilling to speak.”

However, four refugees who had just crossed the border yesterday said they had seen only police and no troops.

With international help, aid agencies have been able to ease congestion on the Tunisian side of the frontier, but another 12,500 people, mostly Bangladeshis, still needed evacuation, Fleming said.

In international measures against Gaddafi’s regime, Interpol said it had issued a global alert against the Libyan leader and 15 others, including members of his family and close associates.

The global police organisation said it issued the Orange Notice “in a bid to warn member states of the danger posed by the movement of these individuals and their assets,” following a UN Security Council travel ban and asset freeze.

The move is also to assist the International Criminal Court investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Libya, Interpol said.

It means Interpol’s 188 member countries “will be able to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and to enforce travel bans against all 16 Libyan nationals, as well as the assets freeze targeting six of them.”

Last week, the UN Security Council unanimously ordered a travel and assets ban on Kadhafi’s regime. British authorities said yesterday a border control cutter had intercepted a ship carrying some $160 million of Libyan currency in British waters.

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