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Qaddafi's foray east fails to dampen Libya uprising

Forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi pushed east today toward the oil town of Brega, but retreated west after clashes with 'Free Libyan' forces.

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Most of the trucks had more men than weapons in them as they passed the last checkpoint on the way out of town to shouts of encouragement from the guards. Six ambulances, sirens blaring, also headed to Ajdabiya with doctors and nurses to set up a field hospital.

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Better organized and equipped forces also said they were heading south.

An officer at the 21st Special Forces Battalion in town said troops would soon be dispatched south, though he didn’t know if they’d be holding at Benghazi or pressing for a fight. Graffiti to the left of the front gate quotes Omar Mukhtar, an anticolonial leader here hung by the Italians in 1931: “We win, or we die.”

At a tank base, soldiers were loading ammunition and supplies onto trucks and were readying five tanks and five tracked personnel carriers to roll to Adabiya on flatbeds. They were scheduled to leave this afternoon. This reporter didn’t see any regular military actually on the move, however.

15 'Free Libyan' forces dead in Brega

By the evening, the fight appeared to be over in Brega, at least for now. The atmosphere in Benghazi is increasingly tense though, with concerns that members of Qaddafi’s secret police are still active in the city and gathering intelligence.

A Libyan from Brega who fought with irregular forces near the oil terminal there today says his group had 14 wounded, and four killed, before the Qaddafi loyalists were pushed into the nearby university campus. About 15 of the “Free Libyan” forces, as they’re calling themselves, died. The casualties on the government side are unclear.

Fighters in Brega and spokesman for the transitional government in Benghazi first said the Qaddafi fighters were “surrounded” at the university, but later the fighter in Brega said they had been allowed to retreat west, presumably headed toward Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown and his second major stronghold after Tripoli.

Qaddafi still blaming Al Qaeda, denying protests

In a rambling address on state television today, Qaddafi continued to deny the fact that he’s lost most of the eastern third of the country, home to the bulk of Libya’s oil fields.

He insisted the fighting against his regime has been led and organized by Al Qaeda, despite the fact that it’s a broad popular revolt calling for democracy and basic freedoms, and said there have been “no protests whatsoever in the east.”

At a protest in Benghazi today, a few thousand Libyans gathered to cheer as hundreds of copies of Qaddafi’s “Green Book,” a text he wrote and insists is the law of the land, were fed into a bonfire. One man laughs when asked if the crowd of men and women are working for “Al Qaeda.”

“Look around you,” he says, pointing to the printed Arabic and English signs carried by many of the demonstrators.

They indeed have a list of demands that wouldn’t please Osama bin Laden if he saw them. “Yes for freedom of the press,” “Yes for the rule of law,” “Yes for the division of powers,” and “No to extremism,” they read.

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