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Sun 28 Aug 2011 08:00 AM

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Libyans count bloody cost of battle for Tripoli

Bodies of executed Gaddafi soldiers found as fighting ebbs away in Libyan capital

Libyans count bloody cost of battle for Tripoli
Residents and rebels celebrate after the southwestern neighbourhood of Tripoli was taken over on August 27, 2011
Libyans count bloody cost of battle for Tripoli
A Libyan rebel with a skull on his helmet stands guard outside the Salaheddin army barracks of the elite 32 Brigade near Tripoli on August 27, 2011.
Libyans count bloody cost of battle for Tripoli
Rebels and their supporters celebrate around the iconic statue of a golden fist crushing a US military bomber outside Gaddafis heavily damaged Bab al-Azizya compound
Libyans count bloody cost of battle for Tripoli
Rebel forces celebrate in the newly named Martyrs Square, formerly known as Green Square, after they overran Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafis fortified Bab al-Azizya headquarters in the capital Tripoli, following heavy fighting on August 23, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)

Residents of Tripoli dug makeshift graves to bury the dead
as evidence emerged of widespread summary killings during the battle for the
Libyan capital.

A week after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the stench of
decomposing bodies and burning garbage hung over the city as it faced a
humanitarian crisis due to collapsing water and power supplies, shortages of
medicine and no effective government.

In a sign of continuing instability in the city, bursts of
heavy machine gunfire and explosions could be heard overnight.

The rebels now in control of most of Tripoli vowed to take
Gaddafi's home town of Sirte by force if negotiations with loyalists in one of
their last strongholds there failed.

As the fighting ebbed away in the capital, more and more
bodies were found. Some were Gaddafi soldiers who perished, while others
appeared to have been executed. Still more were found in the grounds of a
hospital abandoned by its doctors.

The charred remains of around 53 people have been found in a
warehouse in Tripoli, apparently opponents of Gaddafi who were executed as his
rule collapsed, Britain's Sky News reported on Saturday.

Sky broadcast pictures of a heap of burned skeletons, still
smouldering, in an agricultural warehouse, where the victims were apparently
prisoners.

In the Tajoura district of the capital, local people
prepared a mass grave for the bodies of 22 African men who appeared to have
been recruited to fight for Gaddafi. One of the dead had his hands tied behind
his back.

"The rebels asked them to surrender but they
refused," said resident Haitham Mohammed Khat'ei.

"Residents of the neighbourhood decided to bury them in
accordance with Islamic law," he said.

Reports of cold-blooded killings by both sides have surfaced
in the past few days, darkening the atmosphere in a city where many had greeted
Gaddafi's fall with joy.

In a sign of the lawlessness now gripping parts of the
capital, one of Gaddafi's villas lay looted and abandoned, torn pictures of the
fugitive leader scattered in its grounds.

Gaddafi's own whereabouts remain unknown -- rebels hunting
him say the war will not end until the 69-year-old colonel, who kept Libya in
his grip for 42 years, is captured or killed.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebel National Transitional
Council (NTC), told reporters in Benghazi: "We have no factual report
about the whereabouts of Gaddafi and his sons."

The NTC, which has told its fighters not to carry out
revenge killings, is trying to assert its authority and restore order in
Tripoli but its top officials have yet to move there from their Benghazi
headquarters in the east.

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Abdel Jalil said the water and electricity cuts were the
result of sabotage by Gaddafi loyalists.

"There is a stockpile of food and medicine but the
strategic stockpile is for a normal period and now we are in exceptional
circumstances which require double and triple the amounts," he said.
"Food is even a higher priority than security."

After UN diplomats said last week a deal had been reached to
allow the release of $1.5bn in frozen Libyan assets for humanitarian aid and
other civilian needs, the Arab League on Sunday urged the world body to free up
funds immediately.

It also backed the transitional government-in-waiting's move
to seek a seat at the United Nations next month, which would formally symbolise
the end of Gaddafi's rule.

Rebel commanders are still negotiating with Gaddafi
loyalists to try to persuade them to surrender control over the coastal city of
Sirte, Abdel Jalil said.

Libya is effectively cut in two by pro-Gaddafi forces
holding territory stretching southwards from Sirte, 450km east of the capital,
deep into the desert.

A rebel commander said forces advancing from the east had
reached the edge of Bin Jawad, a town about 140km from Sirte.

"We are waiting for the people in Sirte to come out and
talk but we've got no answer up to now. I've been waiting for three days,"
the commander, Fawzi Bukatif, told Reuters.

With rebel forces approaching from east and west, Gaddafi
loyalists in Sirte could retreat into the desert and try to reach Sabha,
another Gaddafi stronghold far to the south.

"If they pull south to Sabha, we'll follow them. We're
determined to clear the whole country," said Bukatif.

The rebels, still a long way from Sirte, have been using
artillery backed by NATO air strikes on the town.

Far to the west, rebels were in control of Ras Jdir, the
main border crossing with Tunisia, after clashing with pro-Gaddafi forces on
Friday, but there was almost no traffic through what is usually a lifeline for
food, fuel and medical supplies for Tripoli.

Also in the west, rebels seized the small desert town of
Jmayl, home of Gaddafi's prime minister, who has left the country.

Nearby in the port of Zuwara about 160km west of Tripoli, a
ship carrying ammunition for the rebels exploded and rebels pointed the finger
at Gaddafi saboteurs.

"The fifth column, they blew up a boat carrying
ammunition and bombs and then ran off," said Salah al-Tahar, a rebel
fighter.

The NTC and the Western powers that backed rebel forces with
a five-month bombing campaign are acutely aware of the need to prevent Libya
collapsing into the kind of chaos that plagued Iraq for years after the US-led
invasion of 2003.

Life remains far from normal in Tripoli, whose two million
people are grappling with a breakdown in basic services, even as many of them
celebrate the overthrow of a hated leader.

In one hospital, wounded patients lay on bare mattresses in
bloodsoaked bandages amid a stench of blood and sweat. None was on an
intravenous drip, although many had lost blood.

"There are widespread shortages of fuel, food and
medical supplies, particularly in the Nafusa Mountains and Tripoli," UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in New York.

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NTC spokesman Shammam said the council wanted staff at the
National Oil Corporation, the de facto energy ministry, to get back to work and
tackle shortages of petrol, fuel oil and gas.

But a senior rebel oil official said the country's five oil
refineries were all currently out of action.

In Tripoli, stinking garbage was piled high in the streets.
In some districts, people set it on fire to stave off disease.

Electricity and running water were scarce. Residents carried
containers to mosques, which often have wells, hoping to fill up. Outside one
mosque, a sign read: "No water left."

Dozens of decomposing bodies still lay in and around a
hospital in Abu Salim that was abandoned by medical staff during the fighting.
It was not clear how they had died.

Five bloated bodies lay on trolleys at the entrance to the
emergency department, while 25 lay in the garden, wrapped in rugs and sprinkled
with lime in a vain attempt to keep down the smell.

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