UPDATE 1-Foreign press sees shattered centre of Zawiyah

Fri Mar 11, 2011 6:06pm GMT
 

* Government forces control centre of rebel hold-out city

* Gaddafi supporters hold rally in otherwise deserted city

* Journalists on official visit not allowed outside square

(Updates with more information)

ZAWIYAH, Libya, March 11 (Reuters) - Foreign journalists brought to the centre of Zawiyah by government forces on Friday saw buildings scorched and pockmarked by bullets, hasty patches of fresh paint and loyalists chanting "I love Gaddafi."

Large green and white cloths were draped over the ruined facades of several buildings on the main square, the site of fierce battles in recent days as government forces fought to retake the largest rebel-held city in western Libya.

The facade of a hotel on the square that had been the rebel command centre was scorched and in ruins. Facades not covered by large cloths were pockmarked by bullets from days of battles around the open space the rebels called Martyrs' Square.

Government forces controlling the centre of Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli and held by rebels for days against fierce attacks, brought about 100 foreign journalists to see a rally in the main square.

Some 200 loyalists waved green flags, danced and chanted "I love Gaddafi, I love Gaddafi" in English in the main square, a Reuters correspondent in the media group said. Some militiamen fired their guns in the air in celebration.

The journalists were allowed to walk around on the main square but not to venture beyond it. Some housefronts had pro-Gaddafi slogans painted on them and patches of new paint presumably to cover rebel graffiti beneath them.

The rest of the city centre was deserted, with frequent army checkpoints and many charred vehicles in the roads. Many housefronts were sprayed with bullets and shopfronts destroyed.

Loyalist and rebel forces had been fighting over Zawiyah for a week and the main square changed hands twice in fighting on Wednesday. (Reporting by Maria Golovnina, writing by Tom Heneghan, editing by Tim Pearce)

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