Gaddafi forces launch surprise fightbacks

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Muammar Gaddafi's forces launched surprise fightbacks on three fronts on Monday, even as a son of the fallen Libyan strongman fled to Niger along with more than 30 others from his inner circle.

The ferocious counterattacks on a Ras Lanuf oil refinery, near Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte and at Bani Walid near the capital came just a day after Libya's new leaders declared their government would be formed within 10 days.

NATO vowed on Monday that there would be no let-up in its bombing campaign against Gaddafi's remaining strongholds, which also include the southern oases of Waddan and Sabha, as long as they pose a threat.

And China, which opposed the NATO air strikes when they were launched in late March, became the latest country to recognise the National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya's government, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

But forces loyal to the fugitive Gaddafi, who has vowed to stay in Libya and fight to the death, sprung a surprise deep behind enemy lines, killing at least 12 NTC soldiers in a raid on the oil refinery near Ras Lanuf on the central coast.

"So far, we have a figure of 12 dead in the ranks of the revolutionaries" guarding the key plant, military spokesman Mohammed Zawawi said.

"A group (of loyalists) travelling in five vehicles tried to enter the refinery but were unable to," he said.

The oil infrastructure along the Mediterranean coast between Sidra and Brega was a key battleground of the seven-month uprising against Gaddafi and the front line between the mainly rebel-held east and mainly government-held west went back and forth several times.

But since the fall of Tripoli last month, NTC forces have advanced dozens of kilometres (miles) west towards Sirte, which remains in the hands of Gaddafi loyalists, and have moved to secure the vital oil infrastructure on which its post-war reconstruction plans depend.

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