By Missy Ryan
* Gaddafi urges people to 'liberate Libya' from NATO
* Rebels, gov't representatives talk in Tunisia-source
* Govt spokesman says no talks on Gaddafi departure
* Rebels occupy centre of Zawiyah, control supply route
By Missy Ryan
TRIPOLI, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
urged his people early on Monday to "liberate Libya" from NATO
and traitors, a day after rebels captured a key town on the road
west to Tunisia, severing Tripoli's main supply route.
Late on Sunday, representatives of Gaddafi's government were
holding talks with rebels at a hotel on the southern Tunisian
island of Djerba, a source with direct knowledge of the talks
said -- though the government spokesman denied it.
The talks followed a dramatic advance by the rebels that won
them control of the town of Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of
Tripoli on the coast, enabling them to halt food and fuel
supplies from Tunisia to Gaddafi's stronghold in the capital.
Tripoli was not under immediate threat from a rebel attack,
but rebel forces are now in their strongest position since the
uprising against 41 years of Gaddafi's rule began in February,
controlling the coast both east and west of Tripoli.
Gaddafi's speech on Monday, delivered over a poor quality
telephone line and broadcast by state television in audio only,
was his first public address since rebel fighters launched their
latest offensive, the biggest in months.
"The Libyan people will remain and the Fateh revolution
(which brought Gaddafi to power in 1969) will remain. Move
forward, challenge, pick up your weapons, go to the fight for
liberating Libya inch by inch from the traitors and from NATO,"
the Libyan leader said.
"Get ready for the fight ... The blood of martyrs is fuel
for the battlefield," he said, in what state television said was
a live speech.
At the talks in Djerba late on Sunday, "Representatives of
the rebels and Gaddafi representatives are having a meeting
now," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He
did not identify the negotiators.
In Tripoli, government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim blamed
Western leaders and the media for the spread of rumours that
Gaddafi's government was engaged in talks on the leader's
departure from Libya.
"This information is absolutely incorrect and it is part of a
media war against us. Their target is to confuse us, break our
spirit, and shake our morale," he said.
"The leader is here in Libya, fighting for the freedom of our
nation. He will not leave Libya," Ibrahim said.
Gaddafi's characteristically defiant speech followed a day
of action across a swathe of northwest Libya during which rebels
said they had seized the town of Surman, next door to Zawiyah,
there was fighting in the town of Garyan that controls the
southern access to Tripoli, and shooting could be heard near the
main Libyan-Tunisian border crossing.
Government spokesman Ibrahim said Zawiyah and Garyan were
"under our full control" but that there were small pockets of
fighting in two other locations in the area around Tripoli.
The coastal highway between Tripoli and Tunisia had not been
blocked by the fighting, Ibrahim said in a telephone interview
on Sunday, but foreigners were not being allowed to use the
route "to save them from any bullets here or there".
Rebels from the Western Mountains region to the south
advanced into Zawiyah late on Saturday, and early on Sunday,
about 50 rebel fighters were milling around near the central
market, triumphantly shouting "Allahu Akbar!" ("God is
The red, black and green rebel flag was flying from a shop.
At the point where it passes through Zawiyah, the main highway
linking Tripoli to Tunisia was empty of traffic.
Rebel fighters told Reuters there were still forces loyal to
Gaddafi in the town, including snipers on tall buildings. Bursts
of artillery and machinegun fire could be heard.
One rebel fighter said Gaddafi's forces controlled the oil
refinery on the northern edge of Zawiyah -- a strategic target
because it is the only one still functioning in western Libya
and Gaddafi's forces depend on it for fuel.
The fighting was spreading west from Zawiyah along the
coastal highway towards the main Ras Jdir border crossing with
Tunisia. A rebel spokesman called Abdulrahman said a rebel force
had seized Surman, the next town west along the coast from
But at the border crossing to Tunisia, Libyan customs and
immigration officers were operating as usual, despite reports of
clashes between rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces in the area late
On another front in Sunday's fighting, near Garyan, heavy
gunfire could be heard from the town, a Reuters reporter in the
area said. A rebel fighter told Reuters "We control 70 percent
of Garyan. There is still fighting taking place at the moment."
Rebels, backed by NATO warplanes, have been trying since
February to end Gaddafi's rule in the bloodiest of the "Arab
Spring" uprisings convulsing the Middle East.
After a period of deadlock, the rebels' advance to the
Mediterranean coast near Tripoli represents a major shift in the
balance of forces.
Gaddafi says the rebels are armed criminals and al Qaeda
militants, and has described the NATO campaign as an act of
colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libya's oil.
(Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing in Ras Jdir, Tunisia,
Missy Ryan in Tripoli, Robert Birsel in Benghazi and Hamid Ould
Ahmed in Algiers; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Tim
© 2016 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.