Cairo/Tripoli, March 10 (IANS) Intense fighting between pro- and anti-government forces for control of many cities and towns flared across Libya as defiant strongman Muammar Gaddafi announced a reward of over $400,000 for capturing the country’s top opposition leader.
Some of the fiercest fighting was taking place in the strategic oil city of Az-Zawiyah, 50 km west of the capital Tripoli, Al Jazeera reported Thursday.
“The rebels control the centre of Zawiyah and Gaddafi’s forces are surrounding it. It’s 50-50,” a resident, who fled the city, said.
“There was no one in the streets, the town is completely deserted, and there are snipers on the roofs,” he said, adding that he did not know which side they were on.
Gaddafi’s forces say they have taken back the city from the hands of rebels, a claim denied by the protesters who are against Gaddafi.
Libya has been witnessing massive anti-government protests since Feb 14. The protesters are demanding the ouster of Gaddafi who has ruled the north African country for almost 42 years. According to an estimate, over 6,000 people have been killed in the clashes.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi has announced a bounty of more than $400,000 for capturing the country’s top opposition leader, RIA Novosti reported citing a Libyan TV channel.
The Libyan strongman offered a half million dinar (about $410,000) for the capture of former justice minister Mustafa Abdul-Jalil.
The bounty would be paid “to whoever captures and hands over” the “agent spy” Abdul-Jalil, and “200,000 Libyan dinars ($164,300) to whoever offers information leading to his actual arrest”, the report said.
According to Al Jazeera, any independent confirmation of the claims and counter-claims, however, is difficult since journalists are unable to reach Zawiyah.
Locals said the city had been under sustained attack from pro-Gaddafi forces, aided by tanks and war planes.
There are also reports of fighting taking place in the eastern port city of Ras Lanuf, where an oil installation went up in flames.
“Pro-Gaddafi forces unleashed a savage counter-offensive against the town of Ras Lanuf,” the channel said.
International pressure is mounting upon Gaddafi to step down.
Germany has frozen accounts belonging to Libya’s central bank and sovereign wealth fund, DPA learned Thursday.
The move, disclosed by Economics Minister Rainer Bruederle, affected 193 accounts at 14 German banks, including the German central bank, according to government sources.
Accounts affected by the freeze included those belonging to the Libyan Foreign Bank, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority, which holds around $70 billion worth of state money, and the Libya Africa Investment Portfolio.
According to AKI, anti-government protesters are in contact with the Italian government, a spokesman for the rebels said.
“We’ve had telephone contact since yesterday (Tuesday) with Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini,” a spokesman for the opposition National Council, Abel Hafiz Al Ghogha, told journalists Wednesday in Benghazi – Libya’s second largest city.
However, he did not disclose the content of their discussions.
The battle for the ouster of Gaddafi has intensified as rebels have increased pressure on the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent airstrikes by pro-Gaddafi forces.
While several world powers have backed such a measure, the modalities are yet to be worked out with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying such a move should be driven by the UN and not the US.
NATO and European Union are beginning fresh talks on a no-fly zone Thursday.
Gaddafi has launched his own diplomatic effort, sending emissaries to Brussels and Cairo.