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Gaddafi urges loyalists to fight on

Muammar Gaddafi has called on his followers in Libya to rise up and fight, saying "this is the zero hour".

Fighters from the revolutionary forces that drove him from power last month have begun an assault on one of his last areas of support in the town of Bani Walid, south-east of the capital.

Gaddafi's latest audio message was broadcast repeatedly on the town's radio station on Saturday night. In it, he urges supporters to fight and says those who do not will go to hell.

Meanwhile, the head of Libya's interim administration, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, was set to arrive in the Libyan capital, a major step toward establishing a post-Gaddafi government. Former rebels took control of Tripoli in late August, and Abdul-Jalil's continued absence had raised questions about their ability to take charge.

After the fall of Tripoli, revolutionary forces chased retreating Gaddafi loyalists into three bastions of support for the former regime, including Bani Walid, Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte and the southern town of Sabha. However, it has proven difficult for the anti-Gaddafi troops to capture the three towns, suggesting that the former dictator still commands some support. The fugitive Gaddafi has said he won't surrender and has exhorted his followers to keep fighting.

Revolutionary forces and regime loyalists had been engaged in off-and-on surrender talks in Bani Walid, a town some 90 miles south east of Tripoli, for more than a week. Fighting erupted on Friday and escalated on Saturday.

After midday on Saturday, anti-Gaddafi fighters in a desert valley some two miles from Bani Walid came under heavy attack from loyalists. Loud explosions were heard as mortar rounds struck the area, releasing clouds of dust and smoke. Snipers also targeted rebel fighters, as ambulances sped up and down the main road into town.

Justice Minister Amadou Morou said late on Friday that the Libyan chief of staff of the air force, his pilot and the commanders of two Libyan military regions have arrived in Niger. Mr Morou declined to name the officers.

Mr Morou condemned an attempted attack on the Embassy of Niger in Tripoli on Wednesday night by a group of 20 armed men who tried to force their way in. He said the compound is now being offered protection by Libya's National Transitional Council, the political leadership of the former rebels and the closest thing Libya has to a government.

Libya's new rulers had set a Saturday deadline for Gaddafi loyalists in Bani Walid, Sirte, and Sabha, deep in Libya's southern desert, to surrender or face an offensive.

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