Clashes between rebels and Gadhafi forces are spreading across Libya, with each side trying to seize control of strategic points in the country. Interpol meanwhile issued a global alert against the Libyan leader.
Anti-Gadhafi protesters took to the streets again on Friday
Security forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi launched an offensive on Friday in a bid to take a town near the capital that has for days been defying his rule.
The rebellion in Zawiyah - the closest rebel-held territory to the capital and also the site of an oil refinery - has been an embarrassment to the Libyan authorities who are trying to show they control at least the west of the country.
In Tripoli, shooting rang out across Tajoura district as Gadhafi loyalists broke up a crowd of protesters seeking an end to his long rule and shouting "Gadhafi is the enemy of God!"
The demonstrators spilled out of the Murat Adha mosque after Friday prayers, and several hundred of them began chanting for an end to Gadhafi's four decades in power.
In Ras Lanuf, about 660 km (410 miles) east of Tripoli, heavily armed rebels clashed with forces loyal to Gadhafi as the head of Libya's rebel council vowed "victory or death".
The rebels were attacking a military base on the outskirts of Ras Lanuf, a major oil port on the Mediterranean Sea, which has a refinery, pipelines and a terminal, and the army responded with artillery fire and helicopters firing machine guns. Rebels said they had captured the airport and intended to push forward toward the military base after dark.
Captured Dutch soldiers shown on TV
Meanwhile, Libyan state television appeared to show that at least one of the three Dutch marines captured in Libya after a botched evacuation mission is a woman.
Dutch government officials are refusing to confirm any details of the identity or even the gender of the three marines. They say intense diplomacy is under way to secure their release.
Footage aired by Libyan state TV purports to show two of the marines, a man and a woman, as well as their Lynx helicopter that was seized by armed men loyal to Gadhafi on Sunday. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte refused to reveal any details of cabinet discussions Friday about the captured marines. “Everything is focused on getting the three safely back to the Netherlands,” he said.
Increasing the international pressure on the Libyan leader, Interpol has issued a global alert against Moammar Gadhafi and 15 others, including members of his family and close associates, the global police organisation said on Friday.
Interpol 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 intended to assist the International Criminal Court investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Libya, Interpol said in a statement.
Plight of refugees
In Brussels, the European Union's aid chief urged Libya on Friday to allow humanitarian workers enter the country as she voiced concern about the plight of refugees on the Libyan side of the border with Tunisia.
"I am increasingly worried about the humanitarian situation on the Libyan side of the border," EU crisis response commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said after visiting the border region.
"I call on the Libyan authorities and on those who control parts of Libya to allow humanitarian workers in the country and to facilitate their access to those who need our help,” she said.
Heavily armed pro-regime forces are manning the Libyan side of the border with Tunisia, the UN refugees agency said, expressing concern that the security situation was preventing people from crossing the border.
Fewer than 2,000 people crossed the border on Friday, the agency said, noting that on previous days between 10,000 and 15,000 people had made it across.
"The humanitarian community must be able to provide aid without deterrent and threat, in line with the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality," Georgieva said.
Author: Michael Knigge (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)
Editor: Susan Houlton