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Qaddafi loyalists take over Bani Walid

BENGHAZI, Libya - Muammar Qaddafi loyalists seized control of a Libyan city and raised the ousted regime's green flag, an official and commander said Tuesday, in the most serious revolt yet against the country's government.

The retaking of Bani Walid comes as Libya's new leaders have struggled to unify the oil-rich North African nation three months after Qaddafi was captured and killed.

Hundreds of well-equipped and highly trained remnants of Qaddafi's forces raised the green flag over buildings in the western city late Monday after hours of clashes that drove out the local "revolutionary brigade," said Mubarak al-Fatamni, the head of Bani Walid local council. Revolutionary brigades are militias that are nominally loyal to the National Transitional Council, the national government.

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Al-Fatamni, who fled to the nearby city of Misrata following the attack, said four revolutionary fighters were killed and 25 others were wounded.

The head of Bani Walid's military council, Abdullah al-Khazmi, also said Qaddafi loyalists had taken the city. He spoke to The Associated Press at a position on the eastern outskirts of Bani Walid, where hundreds of pro-NTC reinforcements from Benghazi were deployed, with convoys of cars mounted with machine guns.

A top commander of a revolutionary brigade in Bani Walid, Ali al-Fatamni, who was present in Benghazi during the attack, says he has lost contact with other fighters in the town.

The revolt is the latest breakdown in security, three months after Qaddafi's capture and killing. Protests have surged in recent weeks, with people demanding that the interim leaders deliver on promises of transparency and compensation for those injured in the fighting.

Bani Walid, located in the mountains 90 miles southeast of Tripoli, was one of the last Qaddafi strongholds to fall to revolutionary forces amid a months-long civil war. It held out for weeks after the fall of the regime, with loyalist fighters dug into its formidable terrain of valleys and crevasses.

Qaddafi's son and longtime heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, was long believed to have been hiding in the town. Seif al-Islam, who has been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, was captured in November by fighters from the town of Zintan in Libya's western mountains, who continue to hold him.

The main tribe in Bani Walid is a branch of the Warfala tribal confederation, which stretches around the country with around 1 million members. The Bani Walid branch was one of the most privileged under Qaddafi, who gave them top positions and used their fighters to try to crush protesters in the early months of last year's uprising against his rule.

Such has left the tribe with deep mistrust and enmities with the rest of the cities, especially those whose residents have suffered the most during the uprising.

The fighters who rose up in Bani Walid on Monday belong to Brigade 93, a militia created by Qaddafi loyalists who reassembled after the fall of the regime in August, said al-Khazmi and the local council chief.

The brigade is named after a famous coup against Qaddafi in 1993 by members of the Warfala tribe. Qaddafi ordered executions and arrests of all the military officers involved in the coup, except for a few. Among those spared was Salem al-Aawar, who is believed to have helped the regime uncover the plot and who is believed to head Brigade 93, said al-Khazmi.

The Britain's Foreign Office said that tension is not between pro-Qaddafi loyalists but between tribal leaders and the National Transitional Council.

"This follows increased tensions in this area in recent weeks with local tribal leaders," a ministry spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity. "These events underline the importance of an inclusive political process, which the Libyans are working hard to take forward together with rebuilding Libya," he said.

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