Former Gaddafi stronghold revolts against Tripoli

Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:33pm GMT

By Oliver Holmes

BANI WALID, Libya (Reuters) - Libya's ramshackle government lost control of a former stronghold of Muammar Gaddafi on Tuesday after local people staged an armed uprising, posing the gravest challenge yet to the country's new rulers.

Elders in Bani Walid, where militias loyal to the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) were driven out in a gunbattle a day earlier, said they were appointing their own local government and rejected any interference from the authorities in the capital Tripoli.

The town's revolt will heighten doubts in the West about the NTC government's ability to instil law and order crucial to rebuilding oil exports, to disarm tribal militias and guard Libyan borders in a region where al Qaeda is active.

Local elders denied reports that they were loyal to Gaddafi, who was captured and killed in October after weeks on the run, and Reuters reporters in Bani Walid saw no signs of the Gaddafi-era green flags which witnesses earlier said had been hoisted over the town.

But the collapse of NTC authority in the town, one of the most die-hard bastions of pro-Gaddafi sentiment during Libya's nine-month civil war last year, will compound the problems besetting a government that in the past week has been staggering from one crisis to another.

The uprising in Bani Walid could not come at a worse time for the National Transitional Council government. In the past week its chief has had his office overrun by protesters angry at the slow pace of reform and the second most senior official has quit, citing what he described as an "atmosphere of hatred."

Reuters reporters who entered Bani Walid on Tuesday morning saw a few of the black, green and red flags of last year's anti-Gaddafi rebellion but there was no sign of any central government presence.

About 200 elders who gathered in a mosque decided to abolish an NTC-appointed military council for the town and appoint their own local council, in direct defiance of the authority of the government in Tripoli.   Continued...

Anti-Gaddafi militants celebrate in the centre of Bani Walid after its capture, October 17, 2011. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
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