TRIPOLI, Libya -- A hunted Moammar Gadhafi called on his remaining loyalists yesterday to keep fighting, as the country's new prime minister appealed from the capital for national unity to rebuild the country after six months of civil war.
Rebel forces effectively ended Gadhafi's 42-year rule last month when they seized the capital, Tripoli, sending the autocrat into hiding. Libya's new rulers have been searching for him since, while trying to negotiate the surrender of towns still held by Gadhafi supporters.
Yesterday, Gadhafi loyalists fired at least 10 rockets from inside one of the towns at former rebel forces amassed outside. Former rebels have been waiting outside Bani Walid for days while their leaders try to negotiate the town's surrender before a deadline this weekend.
Speaking to reporters in Tripoli, Mahmoud Jibril called the negotiations an opportunity to avoid further bloodshed, but said his forces would respond if attacked.
"The right to self-defense will remain a right even before this issue concludes," he said. He also criticized the town's leaders, saying they had shown "no real initiatives or intentions to give peace a chance and bring unity back to the Libya people."
Bani Walid, a dusty town of 100,000 about 90 miles southeast of Tripoli, has emerged as a focus in the fight against pro-Gadhafi holdouts. Some say prominent regime loyalists, including Gadhafi's son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, could be inside.
Regime loyalists also still control Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte and the southern city of Sabha.
In Tripoli, Jibril said that a new government can be formed only after the whole country is "liberated." "I hope that we as Libyans, just as we fought to free the land and its people, will be able to join hands to fight the battle to rebuild," he said.
Thursday's appearance was Jibril's first since rebel forces stormed the capital on Aug. 21. Since then, the new leaders have been scrambling to establish an interim administration to run the country's affairs until a new constitution can be written and elections held.
From hiding, hours earlier, Gadhafi denied rumors he had fled Libya, vowed never to leave the land of his ancestors and exhorted followers to keep fighting. The message was broadcast on a pro-Gadhafi satellite TV channel based in Syria.