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Sporadic fighting rocks Tripoli

Gunfire and explosions rock Libyan capital as snipers target rebelsFighters loyal to Muammar Gaddafi are putting up a stiff fight in several Tripoli neighbourhoods against rebels seeking to consolidate their grip over the capital a day after they seized the Libyan leader's heavily fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound.

Gaddafi's men on Wednesday were holed up in several Tripoli neighbourhoods, including the district of Abu Selim, from where they were still waging a battle against the rebels.

Witnesses said forests around the capital were full of Gaddafi snipers.

There were also reports of heavy gunfire coming from the area of the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, where dozens of international journalists are trapped. They are guarded by heavily armed Gaddafi loyalists, according to a Reuters reporter.

Rebels say at least 400 of their men have been killed and 200 injured in the battle for Tripoli.

Defiant Gaddafi

In audio remarks broadcast on Wednesday by the al-Rai television channel, a defiant Gaddafi called on Tripoli residents to repel the rebels' advance.

"All Libyans must be present in Tripoli, young men, tribal men and women must sweep through Tripoli and comb it for traitors," he said. "I have been out a bit in Tripoli discreetly, without being seen by people, and ... I did not feel that Tripoli was in danger."

Al-Rai quoted the Libyan leader as saying that he had retreated from his Tripoli compound in a "tactical move" after 64 NATO air strikes reduced it to rubble.

Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who heads the National Transitional Council (NTC) and was a minister in Gaddafi's government until the February uprising against his rule, cautioned: "It is too early to say that the battle of Tripoli is over. That won't happen until Gaddafi and his sons are captured."

Reports had circulated of Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, being captured by the rebels but he made a defiant public appearance on Tuesday, smiling and shaking hands with supporters. The whereabouts of five of Gaddafi's other sons is unknown.

'Looking for Gaddafi'

Rebels entered Gaddafi's compound after fighting for five hours with his loyalists outside, using mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns.

"We're looking for Gaddafi now. We have to find him now," said Sohaib Nefati, a rebel sitting against a wall with a machine gun.

Abdel-Aziz Shafiya, a 19-year-old rebel dressed in camouflage with a rocket-propelled grenade slung over one shoulder and a machine gun over the other, said the rebels believed Gaddafi was inside the compound but hiding underground.

"Wasn't he the one who called us rats? Now he is the rat underground," he said.

While Gaddafi has his back to the wall, the area of Sirte, his birthplace on the northern coast, and the town of Sabha in the south, reportedly still remain loyal to him.

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