TRIPOLI, Libya – The Libyan capital saw its first major gunbattle since Moammar Gadhafi fled Tripoli more than two months ago, as his supporters traded fire with revolutionary forces Friday after a crowd raised the ousted regime’s green flag.
Fearing more attacks, revolutionary forces set up checkpoints across the metropolis of some 2 million people. They also rounded up several suspected African mercenaries, pulling them from cars and houses.
The violence in Tripoli and fierce resistance on two other fronts set back the new rulers’ stated goals of declaring total victory and establishing democracy as Gadhafi, the ruler for nearly 42 years, remains on the run.
The capital has been relatively calm since then-rebels swept into the city in late August. But Gadhafi’s loyalists have control of parts of his hometown of Sirte and the desert enclave of Bani Walid and have fought off NATO-backed revolutionary forces besieging them for weeks.
The firefight in Tripoli began after Friday prayers. Witnesses said dozens of loyalists carrying the green flag appeared on a square in the Abu Salim neighborhood, which has long been a pro-Gadhafi stronghold.
“I looked out of my window and I saw men and women in a group of 50 to 80 people, carrying the green flag,” said Abadi Omar, a resident in one of the buildings in the area. “They put one of these flags at the end of our street. This is when the revolutionary forces came out and these people disappeared.”
Revolutionary forces started searching every building in the area and found weapons on some of the rooftops, Omar said. Then pro-Gadhafi snipers opened fire, and the gunbattle began as anti-Gadhafi fighters chased loyalists around the closely packed buildings.