Sirte: Snipers loyal to Muammar Gaddafi held back government forces trying to capture his hometown on Thursday and the deposed leader warned the heads of the developing world who have recognized Libya`s new rulers that they would face a similar fate to his own.
Hiding in a mosque and a building that was once Gaddafi`s favorite venue for international summits, loyalists blocked the advance of government forces, making forecasts of a quick end to the battle for Sirte look premature.
Thousands of civilians in the town of Sirte are caught up in the fighting. Red Cross workers who were able to reach the town`s hospital described patients sheltering from the gunfire in the corridors and a lack of staff to treat them.
Taking Sirte is of huge symbolic importance to Libya`s new rulers, and until it is captured they are putting on hold plans to start rebuilding the oil-producing North African state.
Once a sleepy fishing town and Gaddafi`s birthplace, Sirte was transformed by the former Libyan leader into the country`s second capital.
Libya`s parliament often sat in Sirte and summit meetings were staged in a marble-clad conference center in the south of the Mediterranean coastal city, from where fighters loyal to him fired on the attacking forces on Thursday.
Commanders with the National Transitional Council (NTC) have predicted they will have Sirte, which has a population of 75,000, under their full control by the weekend.
They pledged that units on Sirte`s outskirts would be brought into the fight on Friday in a coordinated offensive.
An audio recording of Gaddafi obtained by Reuters on Thursday from Syria-based Arrai television was the first sign of life from him since September 20, when the same station last aired a speech by him.
"If the power of (international) fleets give legitimacy, then let the rulers in the Third World be ready," Gaddafi said in an apparent reference to NATO`s support for NTC forces.
"To those who recognize this council, be ready for the creation of transitional councils imposed by the power of fleets to replace you one by one from now on," said Gaddafi, who was in power for 42 years.
De facto Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said that Gaddafi was hiding in southern Libya under the protection of tribes, crossing occasionally into Niger, and government forces expected to pinpoint his whereabouts soon.
"Security is the most important thing for him. To specify where he is exactly even for ten hours is very difficult. I hope within the coming days we will be able to confirm where he is located exactly," Jibril said in on a visit to Baghdad where he discussed renewing Libyan diplomatic ties with Iraq.