Factbox - Gaddafi’s last bastions in Libya

Libyan provisional government forces on Friday launched fierce full-scale assaults on two of Muammar Gaddafi’s last strongholds in the country, Bani Walid and Sirte, the town in which he was born.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Sat 17 Sep 2011, 9:12 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 1:49 AM

Here are some facts about the towns making a last stand:

BANI WALID

· The desert town 150 km (93 miles) south of Tripoli was the first point of focus for new rulers, the National Transitional Council (NTC), when they secured the capital and began looking to exert their control over the whole country. It has been besieged by their forces for more than two weeks now.

· At first they tried to negotiate a surrender with the town’s elders but that failed.

· One major reason they failed to reach agreement is that Bani Walid is the main stronghold of Libya’s Warfalla tribe—the country’s largest with a population of up to 1 million, out of a total Libyan population of around 6.6 million.

· The Warfalla, together with the Gaddafa and the Magarha, were traditionally considered the pillars of Gaddafi’s rule, dominating the security services and the ranks of the military.

Though their support for Gaddafi was inconsistent and their leadership is scattered, many of them benefited from closeness to his government and access to his oil wealth. They now fear reprisals from the NTC.

· Bani Walid has been described as being “in a valley, reached through several other valleys, in one big valley”. This difficult and rocky terrain has also played a part in keeping the anti-Gaddafi NTC fighters at bay. Gaddafi loyalists are dug into the valleys with rocket launchers and sniper positions.

· The town has several very steep roads leading to its centre, where the brunt of Gaddafi loyalists are believed to be. They have been pouring oil down those streets to stem the NTC advance.

SIRTE

· Gaddafi was born in a Bedouin tent just outside the ancient Mediterranean village in 1942 and it has always had a special place in both his affections and his development plans for Libya.

· Sirte is about 450 km east of Tripoli and lies almost exactly halfway between the capital and Benghazi, the cradle of the revolution that toppled Gaddafi after 42 years in power.

· During his time as leader, Gaddafi turned it from a sleepy hamlet into a bustling town that acted as Libya’s de facto capital, hosting the country’s toothless parliament and international meetings. Gaddafi often hosted heads of state here, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2007.

· The African Union was founded at a summit in Sirte, on September 9, 1999. State-owned Afriqiyah Airways marks that date by painting the motif “9.9.99” on the tail of each of its jets. Gaddafi often proposed the idea of creating a “United States of Africa” with Sirte as its capital.

SABHA

· Sabha, 700 km from Tripoli and deep in the country’s southern deserts, is the last major town before much of the country becomes thinly inhabited and cut-off from its cities.

· It was here Gaddafi declared “the dawn of the era of the masses” in a famous speech.

· Sabha is well-known as home to a large population of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa—many of them now terrified they will be attacked and possibly killed if and when the NTC takes the town.

· African mercenaries—from countries including Uganda, Senegal, Chad and Niger—were captured fighting alongside Gaddafi soldiers during the war. When the NTC took over, some of its fighters took their anger out on the Africans, killing several and raping some African women, rights groups say.

· But Libya also has a large population of sub-Saharan African migrant workers. The International Labour Organisation says thousands of them are trapped in Sabha, including women and children.

JUFRA AND THE SOUTHERN DESERTS

· Another smaller oasis, Jufra, is still believed to be under the control of Gaddafi loyalists. Some NTC officials have mentioned the possibility of a massive arms cache there.

· Battles could also potentially erupt in the vast deserts in the south of the country. Gaddafi loves to talk about his Bedouin origins and some NTC officials privately concede he could probably do quite well in the desert, perhaps even bettering the nine months Iraq’s Saddam Hussein spent on the run.



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