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Gaddafi fires up propaganda machine

Muammar Gaddafi's government issued an SMS to Libyans today boasting that the insurrection in the country's east is on the verge of defeat, the latest salvo in a propaganda blitz by his regime.

The army yesterday declared victory over Zawiyah, a centre for anti-regime protests just west of Tripoli, Ras Lanouf, an oil town and the frontline in Libya's rebel uprising, and the eastern hamlet of Bin Jawad.

It dealt a tough blow for the rebels who for nearly a month have been threatening the foundations of Gaddafi's regime.

The government's propaganda machine has been using state television and texting through mobile phone networks to spread its triumphalist declarations.

Early today, as Muslim worshippers prepared for weekly prayers, Libyans received a series of SMS claiming that forces loyal to Gaddafi would soon flood into Benghazi, Libya's second city and stronghold of the rebellion.

"The Benghazi loyal to Muammar Gaddafi will soon embrace the revolution" launched by the Libyan leader who led a bloodless coup overthrowing the monarchy nearly 42 years ago, the message said.

"Let the sad people of Benghazi rejoice. The day of liberation is near," said another SMS.

State television also trumpeted claims of military gains and beat the same drum as Kadhafi by blaming the insurgency on Al-Qaeda.

"The population of Ras Lanouf is overjoyed after the town was purged of armed gangs backed by Al-Qaeda."

A rally in honour of the Gaddafi regime was due to be held in Tripoli today.

But concern by the authorities of a possible outbreak of violence in Tripoli was clear when reporters were prevented from reaching the neighbourhood of Tajura, a hotspot of anti-Gaddafi sentiment.

About a dozen journalists attempted to enter Tajura -- scene of clashes between police and residents after weekly prayers the previous two Fridays -- but were ordered back to the government-controlled Rixos hotel.

"Suddenly, as we arrived at Tajura's mosque, centre of the opposition (to Gaddafi), two jeeps drove up and unidentified people detained us," Paulo Dentunho, correspondent for Radio Television Portugal (RTP), told AFP.

Libyan foreign media minders followed.

"They said it was not possible to stay, that we had to leave because (pro-government) militias would soon show up," he added.

Meanwhile Gaddafi loyalists hung banners glorifying the Libyan strongman on the gates of the Rixos hotel, where the authorities have penned the foreign media.

Messages printed on the banners also called on the international press to tell the "truth" about events in Libya which the regime blames on Islamist "terrorists."

"Journalists, why didn't say facts as it is in Libya?" read one banner written in broken English.

Others said: "Muammar is our Father" and "We all are Muammar Gaddafi."

Internet is not available outside the hotel and Libyan phones have not worked since yesterday evening.

In a speech yesterday to a frenzied crowd of youths, Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam, pointed hundreds of regime backers and told the foreign press:

"There, that is the Libyan people, and not some elements who are holding hostage the populations of the cities," east of Tripoli.

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