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Gadhafi supporters rally for him in former rebel city

By Ivan Watson, Raja Razek and Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
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Gadhafi supporters rally in former rebel city
  • NEW: NATO says it attacked military facilities
  • A boat with Libyan asylum-seekers is rescued off Lampedusa coast
  • Warplanes launch sustained bombardgment of Tripoli suburb
  • Libyan leader condemns foes in fiery speech

Zawiyah, Libya (CNN) -- As fighting raged around the eastern Libyan oil town of Brega on Saturday, supporters of Moammar Gadhafi's internationally isolated government staged a rally hundreds of miles to the west.

Hours later, warplanes launched a sustained pre-dawn bombardment of an eastern suburb of Tripoli. The distant explosions could be heard and shook windows in Tripoli's city center for more than an hour about 1 a.m. Sunday.

Libyan State TV reported NATO had attacked "military and civilian targets" in the coastal suburb of Tajoura. It was the first time in many days that the Western military alliance targeted the capital and its immediate surroundings.

NATO issued a statement Sunday, announcing it attacked a suspected military storage facility, a surface-to-air missile launcher and radar sites east of Tripoli on Saturday.

NATO also continued its bombardment of the strategic oil town of Brega in eastern Libya, where rebels have reportedly sustained heavy casualties after several days of assaults on Gadhafi's forces there.

Food shortages in Western Libya
  • Libya
  • Moammar Gadhafi

Earlier on Saturday, the demonstration in Zawiyah marked the third pro-Gadhafi rally in as many days. Much like previous rallies in the towns of Zlitan and Ajilat, more than 10,000 portrait-waving demonstrators gathered amid a sea of green flags in Zawiyah's cratered and pock-marked central square.

But this time, there was a much larger security presence and members of the crowd were much more aggressive toward foreign journalists who were bussed into the city by government minders.

Zawiyah was the scene of intense fighting last winter, in the early days of the anti-Gadhafi uprising that has left this country bitterly divided.

Gadhafi's forces eventually succeeded in capturing the city. But months later, recovery appears to have barely begun in the war-torn heart of the city, less than a half-hour's drive from the Libyan capital.

Municipal buildings and a hotel overlooking the central square still stand gutted, windows broken and facades still singed by fires. A vacant lot filled with sand marks the spot where a government minder said a mosque once stood. The mosque was apparently completely bulldozed in the months since Zawiyah was re-captured.

Meanwhile, the rooftop of a conference center was still littered with sandbags, bullet casings, several military helmets, and bottles stuffed with rags apparently for use as petrol bombs -- evidence that rebels fought from this roof before their defeat last winter.

The men, women and children who attended the rally, many of whom traveled by bus and car from nearby Tripoli, appeared fanatically devoted to Gadhafi.

"Allah, Moammar (Gadhafi), Libya only," chanted many men and women, some of whom beat their chests in devotion as they repeated the slogan.

Meanwhile, a boat with 300 Libyan asylum-seekers was rescued off the coast of Lampedusa in Italy, the ANSA news agency said Sunday.

For the third straight day, Gadhafi addressed his supporters with an audio message that denounced the rebel-held enclaves in the west, center and east of the country. He also denounced the foreign governments that recently declared the rebel Transitional National Council based in the eastern city of Benghazi as the sole legitimate government in Libya.

"You agents, you traitors, start looking for survival," Gadhafi said, in comments that were simulcasted on Libyan state TV. "There will be no survival anywhere, get out of Benghazi, you traitors."

Saturday's rally looked like a victory celebration as well as a declaration to Libya and the rest of the world that Zawiyah was now firmly in Gadhafi's hands.

But there were signs Gadhafi's forces still had concerns about security in Zawiyah.

A CNN journalist driving through the city hours before the rally officially took place saw security forces lining up three men who had apparently been detained against a wall.

And the reinforced presence included soldiers and police who used their vehicles to block off side roads leading to the main road running through the city.

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