Clashes continue as Gaddafi vows to recapture Misurata

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 17, 2011 19:20 hrs

Tripoli, March 17 (IANS) Fierce clashes Thursday continued between opposition forces and Muammar Gaddafi's troops as the defiant Libyan leader promised a 'decisive battle' to recapture the rebel-held city of Misurata, Al Jazeera reported.

Air strikes were also reported from the rebel-stronghold of Benghazi.

'The battle continues at Misurata Thursday, that will be the decisive battle,' state television quoted Gaddafi as saying Thursday.

'You are going to be called to take up arms and on Thursday you will take part in the battle,' he added, addressing a group of young people from Misurata.

Gaddafi, unfazed by growing pressure for a UN-sponsored no-fly zone over Libya, asked his audience 'not to leave Misurata hostage in the hands of a handful of madmen'.

Earlier, Xinhua reported that Gaddafi's forces took control of the country's third largest city of Misurata.

On Wednesday, 11 people were reportedly killed in clashes between anti-government protesters and Gaddafi's forces in Misurata, 150 km from Tripoli.

On Tuesday, Libyan state television said the army would soon move against Benghazi, while a day before Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam had predicted that everything would be over within 48 hours.

Mussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, said Thursday that Misurata was 'almost entirely under control. This is the final stage. It should be over by (Friday) morning'.

Libya has been rocked by protests since Feb 14. Protesters are demanding the ouster of Gaddafi, who has ruled the country for about 42 years. According to one estimate, over 6,000 people have died in the clashes.

Meanwhile, fresh airstrikes hit Benghazi Thursday, Al Jazeera said.

One of the strikes targeted the city's airport at Benina. An opposition spokesman said the other strikes hit Buatani (to the east of Benghazi), an area to the northwest and the town of Qaminis, about 50 km south of the city.

Meanwhile, fighting is raging for the control of Ajdabiya, the gateway to Benghazi.

An opposition member in Benghazi said that rebels Thursday shot down two government fighter jets, one of which had bombed the runway of the city's international airport, DPA reported.