Fighting, explosions kill 49 in Libya rebel-held east

Cairo: Pro-Gaddafi forces were locked in a fierce battle with rebels in Libya`s east to reclaim the lost territory as the regime scrambled hard to quell fresh protests in Tripoli, amid reports that at least 49 people were killed in the fighting and explosions in a military arms depot.

Rebel-held Az Zawiyah, just 50 kms west of Tripoli, was the subject of a fierce assault by forces still loyal to 68-year-old Muammar Gaddafi.

Heavy casualties were reported there and in other key cities, including the eastern port of Ras Lanuf.

Al-Jazeera quoting witnesses said today that at least 30 civilians were killed after security forces attempted to retake Az Zawiyah that has for days been defying Gaddafi`s rule.

The rebellion in Az Zawiyah – the closest rebel-held territory to Gaddafi`s bastion of Tripoli and also the site of an oil refinery – has been an embarrassment to the Libyan authorities who are trying hard to demonstrate that they control at least the west of the country.

Eastern regions of the country, around the city of Benghazi, have already fallen out of Gaddafi`s control after a popular revolt against his 41-year rule which began in mid-February.

In another development, two explosions at a military arms depot outside the rebel-held city of Benghazi, which took place minutes apart, left at least 19 people dead and dozens injured, reports reaching here said.

It was not immediately known what caused the explosions, but hospital sources in Libya`s second-largest city said they believed the blasts were not triggered by an air strike by pro-Gaddafi forces in the region.

Gaddafi`s warplanes had earlier attacked military bases overrun by rebels, though they had missed their targets.

Earlier yesterday, clashes briefly erupted after the Friday prayers in the capital Tripoli.

Braving the large presence of gun-totting security personnel and mercenaries, over 1,000 protesters hit the streets in large numbers after the Friday prayers, demanding ouster of the Libyan ruler and chanting slogans like "Gaddafi is the enemy of God", witnesses said.

They were tear-gassed and fired upon by the forces loyal to Gaddafi.

Media reports said the protesters tore down posters of the Libyan leader and spray-painted walls with graffiti such as: "Down with Gaddafi" and "Tajoura will dig your grave."

For the first time since the uprising began on February 15, Interpol issued an Orange Notice against Gaddafi and 15 other Libyans, including members of his family and close associates.