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Acting premier for Libya's new rulers appeals for unity, calls Gadhafi figure of the past
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) ' The acting prime minister for Libya's new rulers is appealing for national unity to rebuild the country while calling Moammar Gadhafi a figure of the past.
Mahmoud Jibril says the battle for Libya is not over, with pockets still controlled by Gadhafi loyalists. Only after the whole country is "liberated," he said, can a new government be formed.
Thursday's appearance was Jibril's first in the capital since rebel forces stormed the city last month, effectively ending Gadhafi's rule and sending him into hiding.
Earlier, Gadhafi called on his followers in an audio message to keep fighting, saying he is still in Libya.
Jibril refused to discuss Gadhafi's whereabouts or send a message to the former ruler.
He said he would not "talk about things of the past," referring to Gadhafi.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
WADI DINAR, Libya (AP) ' Moammar Gadhafi's loyalists fired at least 10 rockets from inside one of his last strongholds Thursday, hours after the ousted Libyan leader urged his fighters to crush opponents he ridiculed as germs and rats.
Former rebels have massed outside the desert town of Bani Walid for days waiting for orders to take the town, but the rocket fire marked an escalation in the standoff, which could reach a climax when a deadline for surrender negotiations runs out this weekend.
The high cost of bringing down Gadhafi's nearly 42-year-rule over the oil-rich nation, meanwhile, came into sharper relief, as the country's interim health minister announced that at least 30,000 people were killed and 50,000 wounded during the six-month civil war.
Though they overran the capital last month, drove Gadhafi into hiding and run a leadership council that is the closest thing to a Libyan government, the fighters cannot claim victory until the remaining handful of loyalist strongholds are under their control and ' most importantly ' Gadhafi is captured.
Reporters with the forces chasing remaining Gadhafi loyalists heard at least 10 loud explosions along the desert front line at Bani Walid, a dusty town of 100,000 some 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli. The barrage followed a close-quarters gunfight in the same area between a patrol of fighters and several loyalist youths in a civilian car. One of the Gadhafi gunmen was killed.
Smoke billowed from where the rockets landed in Wadi Dinar, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) outside Bani Walid. The former rebels said the projectiles fired were Grad rockets.
Bani Walid has emerged as a focus in the fight against pro-Gadhafi holdouts since officials have said a number of prominent regime loyalists, including Gadhafi's son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, are believed to be inside.
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.
Gadhafi hasn't been seen in public for months. Finding him would help seal the new rulers' hold on the country and likely trigger the collapse of the remaining regime loyalists.
In Thursday's five-minute audio message, aired on Al-Rai TV, a man who sounded like Gadhafi denounced reports that he had fled to neighboring Niger and claimed he was still in Libya. He called those who ousted him "a bunch of mercenaries, thugs and traitors."
"We are ready to start the fight in Tripoli and everywhere else, and rise up against them," he said. "All of these germs, rats ... they are not Libyans, ask anyone. They have cooperated with NATO."
Niger officials have said senior members of Gadhafi's regime led by his own security chief crossed from Libya on Tuesday. Niger said the group of 13 people did not include Gadhafi, and U.S. officials have said they have no reason to believe Gadhafi is not in Libya. But reports of the apparent defection of some of his top aides ' and rumors that it involved a large number of senior soldiers who left with money and gold ' were believed to have undermined morale among Gadhafi loyalists.
Gadhafi tried to counter what he called a propaganda war, telling followers in the message broadcast Thursday: "They are trying to demoralize you."
"Gadhafi won't leave the land of his ancestors," he said, referring to himself in the third person, a rhetorical habit.
The authenticity of the recording could not be verified but the voice and style strongly resembled those of Gadhafi, who has used the TV channel in the past.
The Iraqi owner of the station, Mishan al-Jabouri, told The Associated Press the Libyan leader called him at 3 a.m., saying he would either "die or win" but he will not leave Libya.
"We have our own means and methods to keep in contact with them," al-Jabouri said of Gadhafi and his sons.
Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and his intelligence chief are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on charges of crimes against humanity for the crackdown on dissent that began in February.
The court has no police force, and its chief prosecutor asked Thursday for Interpol to help in arresting the men by issuing "red notices." The notices allow warrants to be circulated worldwide with a request that the wanted suspect be arrested.
Rebels have sent mixed signals about what they would do with Gadhafi if they caught him, saying they would cooperate with the ICC but holding open the prospect of trying him in a Libyan court.
Libya's interim health minister, Naji Barakat, said Wednesday that at least 30,000 people were killed and 50,000 wounded in the war. The figures, though incomplete, were based on body counts from some areas and estimates from others, Barakat said.
Libya has just over 6 million people, and if the figure provided by Barakat is confirmed, it would be a measure of the high price Libyans paid to oust Gadhafi. It may take several more weeks to get a complete count, Barakat told The Associated Press.
The economic costs have also been high for the oil-exporting nation.
In Tripoli Thursday, the new governor of Libya's central bank told reporters the former regime sold about 20 percent ' or 29 tons ' of the country's gold reserves to cover salaries during the uprising. Qassim Azzuz also said none of the bank's roughly $115 billion in assets "went missing or were stolen" during the uprising. He said the figures did not include still unknown sums of money accumulated by Gadhafi and his family, which were held outside the local banking sector.
Besides Bani Walid, the former rebels are still battling loyalists in two other Gadhafi strongholds, Gadhafi's Mediterranean hometown of Sirte and Sabha, deep in the southern desert.
Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Tripoli, Rami al-Shaheibi in Benghazi, Libya, and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.