ZAWIYA, Libya — Hundreds of armed anti-government forces backed by rebel troops who control the city closest to the capital Tripoli appeared to be readying Sunday to repel an expected offensive by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi who have surrounded Zawiya.
An Associated Press reporter who reached Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, confirmed the anti-government rebels are in control of the center of the city of 200,000. They have army tanks and anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks deployed. But on the outskirts, they are surrounded by pro-Gadhafi forces.
There were at least six checkpoints controlled by troops loyal to Gadhafi on the road from Tripoli to Zawiya. Each checkpoint was reinforced by at least one tank, and the troops concealed their faces with scarves.
Police stations and government offices inside the city have been torched and anti-Gadhafi graffiti was everywhere. Many buildings are pockmarked by bullets.
"Gadhafi Out," chanted hundreds in the city center. The charred skeletons of many cars littered the city and most streets were blocked by palm tree trunks or metal barricades. "Free, Free Libya," chanted members of the anti-government forces at the city center.
"Down with Gadhafi, the mass murder," read graffiti scawled in the city. An effigy of Gadhafi hung from a light pole in the city's main square. On its chest the words "Execute Gadhafi" were emblazoned.
Gadhafi loyalists remain in control of nearby Tripoli, which was reported to be quiet early Sunday, with most stores closed and long lines outside the few banks open for business. Traffic in the city was close to its normal levels.