South of Tripoli, town celebrates rebel arrival

GARYAN, Libya Fri Aug 19, 2011 2:12pm EDT

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GARYAN, Libya (Reuters) - Standing in the main square of the Libyan town of Garyan where his brother was killed by a sniper days before rebels arrived, Muammar al-Sharif vows he will not let Muammar Gaddafi's forces take the town back.

Like hundreds of others, Sharif attended the first Friday Muslim prayers after the city fell. Rebels say they have cleared snipers and government troops from the town three days ago.

Garyan, which controls the highway south out of Tripoli, was one of two key objectives they seized in the past week, along with Zawiyah in the west, to put the capital under effective siege.

"If Gaddafi tries to come back we will resist. We'll take up arms," Sharif said before shouting "God is great" with other residents gathering after Friday prayers. Some climbed a captured tank left by the rebels in the square.

"A sniper killed my 39-year old brother three days before Gaddafi lost control of the town," he said, pointing to the top floor of the building of an insurance firm where rebels said a sniper had held out until the end.

"Gaddafi will not come back. Next we'll go to Tripoli."

There is still some fighting outside the town but people were defiant, saying Garyan's capture would deal Gaddafi a psychological blow.

"We will fight and fight. Death to Gaddafi. Libya is free, free," the crowd chanted after leaving the mosque.

"We are very happy Gaddafi is gone," said a woman clad in black called Aisha.

Residents said the big crowd was in contrast to the final Friday prayers when Gaddafi's forces were in control last week.

"Snipers were on many buildings to intimidate people not to protest against the government after Friday prayers," said Mohammad Jaber, a school teacher who studied in the German city of Dresden.

"They were pointing guns at people from the roof of this building last Friday," he said, pointing to a large building in front of the city's Grand Mosque. "We will never allow Gaddafi to come back. He's finished."

TOWN TRANSFORMED

Within days residents and rebels have transformed the town located on a mountain and removed all Gaddafi pictures and government flags. Ambulances carry painted rebel slogans.

Anti-government graffiti is seen everywhere on residential and government buildings. "Gaddafi was here but won't stay," reads one. "Let's topple the regime," another says.

In the main hospital, Dr Osama, a family doctor, was treating two rebels fighters brought in on Thursday night with gunshot and explosive wounds.

"They are both in critical condition but now, thank God, stable," he said. The worst case was a 6-year old child called Murad who was being treated for severe gunshot wounds in his stomach area.

H was visibly in pain but tried to put on a brave face. "Good," Murad said when asked how he felt.

"A sniper shot him right in front of our house," his father Akram said, standing next to his bed. "Why do they target civilians? Anybody got hit by snipers, just anybody."

(Editing by Peter Graff and Maria Golovnina)

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