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Libyan rebels retake key eastern city

In Ajdabiya, drivers honk in celebration; others fire guns into the air. A government official in Tripoli describes the retreat of Kadafi forces as a "tactical pullback" and blames the bombing of coalition forces.

March 26, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi | Los Angeles Times
  • Rebel fighters celebrate by waving a Kingdom of Libya flag atop a destroyed tank on the outskirts of Ajdabiyah.
Rebel fighters celebrate by waving a Kingdom of Libya flag atop a destroyed… (Andrew Winning, Reuters )

Reporting from Tripoli, Libya — Rebels fighting the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi have retaken the strategic city of Ajdabiya in the country's east, officials in the capital acknowledged.

A foreign ministry official told reporters that armed forces loyal to Kadafi, under air assault by an international Western-led coalition including the United States, have been forced to retreat from the coastal city, which controls the road to the rebel-held stronghold of Benghazi as well as the desert road to the country's eastern border.

"In the last two days the so-called coalition -- we call it the crusader -- they were heavily involved in the attack on the armed forces and the civilians in Ajdabiyah and nearby," Khaled Kaim, a deputy foreign minister, told reporters. "And that's why the Libyan armed forces decided to leave Ajdabiyah early this morning."

Photos: "A kumbaya moment" with Libyan rebels

Libyan state television also reported early Saturday morning coalition air raids on Tripoli, the capital.

Another government spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, said Kadafi's armed forces have positioned themselves "just to the outside" of Ajdabiyah after being hammered by coalition airstrikes. "Many of our soldiers were killed for no good reason," he said. "They were stationary."

Rebels celebrated what they described as a victory as they poured into the city, according to witnesses cited by news agencies and Libyan officials. But Kaim said the key factor in what he described as a "tactical pullback" was the "involvement of the coalition forces," which have been bombing Kadafi's armed forces since early Sunday morning.

"The main reason our forces pulled back from Ajdabiya is the bombardment," Ibrahim said.

Kaim demanded that the United Nations Security Council, which authorized the imposition of a no-fly zone and other measures to protect Libyans from Kadafi's armed forces, hold a session to discuss the situation. He alleged that the coalition was going beyond its mandate by actively supporting the rebel advance.

"There is a direct involvement of what they call the coalition with the armed rebellion against the armed forces," he said. "The aim is to push our armed forces back city by city. It's not to protect civilians. Their direct involvement in the fighting against the armed forces has become clear. It's outside the mandate. It's involvement in a civil war. The objective of the coalition has become clear to us?.to side with one party against the legitimate government."

Kaim said civilians are taking part in a government-sponsored "green march" of tribal elders making their way across the country from the Kadafi stronghold of Surt to promote peace within the warring country. He predicted 30,000 people would ultimately take part in the march, although a few journalists who visited Surt on Friday said they could only see about a dozen elderly tribal sheiks involved.

"They are moving now from Surt to Ajdabiyah," he said. "Buses, small cars and people will join them from the villages on the way to Ajdabiyah."

Photos: "A kumbaya moment" with Libyan rebels

daragahi@latimes.com

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