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Rebels closing in on Gaddafi town

Libyan rebel forces are advancing towards Muammar Gaddafi's home town despite the extension of the deadline for the town's surrender, rebel officials said.

While rebel forces have seized most of the country, they have yet to capture Gaddafi or members of his family, and their forces have been advancing on the few remaining loyalist bastions, including the former dictator's home town of Sirte.

Rebel council spokesman Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga said that despite the extension of the surrender deadline - the rebels had originally demanded that Sirte surrender by Saturday, but later gave the loyalists an extra week - rebel forces have not stopped advancing.

Rebel brigades have pushed to the town of Wadi Hawarah, around 30 miles from Sirte, he said.

"The rebels at the front line are very eager to move without delay. They live in harsh conditions there in the middle of the desert, and in hot weather," he said, adding the rebels preferred a surrender to a bloody attack. "Maybe tomorrow or the day after the people of Sirte will raise the independence flag and we can enter peacefully without fighting."

"One week is not a big deal," he said, adding that talks are continuing with tribal elders inside Sirte.

The update came after Gaddafi, in a fiery warning from hiding, warned that loyal tribes in his main strongholds were armed and preparing for battle - a show of defiance hours after rebels extended the surrender deadline.

"We won't surrender again, we are not women. We will keep fighting," Gaddafi said in the audio statement, broadcast by Syrian-based Al-Rai TV. His voice was recognisable, and Al-Rai has previously broadcast statements by Gaddafi and his sons.

He said Nato was trying to occupy Libya and steal its oil. "Get ready to fight the occupation. Get ready for a long war, imposed on us. Get ready for the guerrilla war." He called Sirte "the capital of the resistance".

The rebels dismiss the threats as empty rhetoric. They believe Gaddafi may be in one of their three key targets: Sirte, Bani Walid, 90 miles south east of Tripoli, or the southern city of Sabha. Backed by Nato airstrikes, the rebels are pushing toward those three targets.

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