FIGHTERS loyal to the deposed Libyan leader mounted a surprise counter-attack on rebel forces yesterday, killing 17 guards at an oil refinery.
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s troops used more than a dozen vehicles to attack the refinery 20km from the coastal town of Ras Lanuf.
The plant, which is not fully operational, was undamaged but the entrance, guarded by a tank, was littered with empty shells.
“We heard firing and shelling at around 9 in the morning from Gaddafi loyalists,” Ramadan Abdel Qader, a worker who was shot in the raid, said.
The assault occurred hours after the new ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) announced that it had resumed some oil production, which had been all but halted during the months of civil war.
A Syrian-based television station that has broadcast messages from Colonel Gaddafi in the past said that he was still in Libya but was unable to go on TV for security reasons.
“It was meant to show the leader among his fighters and people, leading the struggle from Libyan lands, and not from Venezuela or Niger or anywhere else,” Mishan Jabouri, owner of the Arrai channel, told viewers.
He read out a text quoting Colonel Gaddafi as saying: “We cannot give up Libya to colonisation one more time … There is nothing more to do except fight until victory.”
Fighting was also reported around the town of Bani Walid, southeast of the capital Tripoli, one of the last remaining pockets of resistance from the old regime. Families trapped there for weeks escaped after Gaddafi forces abandoned some checkpoints on the outskirts.
As Nato aircraft pounded pro-Gaddafi strongholds, neighbouring Niger said that 32 members of his inner cicle, including his son Saadi, had arrived in the country.
The US State Department said that the authorities in Niger intended to detain Saadi. In a boost to the NTC yesterday, China announced that it would recognise its rule.