Benghazi/Berlin: Fighting between forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and his opponents intensifies in Libya killing at least 17 people on Friday. In the ongoing mass protests, Gaddafi’s opponents made new gains and advanced closer to his stronghold in Tripoli while pro-government forces attacked two nearby cities in battles. 

Meanwhile, international pressure has also begun to punish Gaddafi's regime for the bloodshed.

The European Union nations have embarked on a large-scale evacuation of its nationals by air and sea routes as a debate is on within the 27-nation bloc on launching a military operation to rescue 6,000 of its citizens who were still there.

Germany ordered a naval task force of three warships to Libya's northern coast on Thursday to pick up Germans and other Europeans trying to flee the turmoil.

The task force comprising two frigates and a supply ship is expected to reach the Libyan coast in the coming days, a spokesman for the German Defence Ministry said here.

Germany's Ministry for Foreign Affairs estimates that around 160 Germans are still in the country and among them 50 are in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

The warships will also take other European nationals willing to leave the country, it said.

Around 350 Germans were evacuated from Libya during the last two days on board two aircraft of the German Air Force and a special flight of Lufthansa.

Around 75 persons, including 47 Germans and nationals of 15 other countries, were flown into Cologne from Tripoli on Wednesday evening on board a German Air Force aircraft used by Chancellor Angela Merkel for her official visits.

Some of the evacuees arrived in Cologne said that the forces opposing Gaddafi are advancing towards the western part of the country after taking control of a large part of eastern Libya, where the uprising against the regime began over a week ago.

Fierce fighting was reported from many parts of the country as the troops loyal to Gaddafi tried to regain control of lost territory and the situation at the Tripoli airport was chaotic, they said.

Two Greek ships with several hundred persons of different nationalities on board left the Libyan port of Benghazi on Thursday and are scheduled to arrive in Greece in the coming days.

Swiss freezes Gaddafi assets

   
Meanwhile, the Swiss government has frozen all assets of Muammar Gaddafi and his associates with immediate effect to prevent misappropriation while the autocratic regime is still in office in Libya.

A government order issued on Thursday evening to block the assets of Gaddafi and 28 other members of his clan, including his wife Safia al-Barrasi, his sons and his only daughter Aisha as well as several relatives and leaders.

"In view of the developments, the Federal Council has decided to block with immediate effect any possible assets of Muammer Gaddafi and his entourage in Switzerland," the Swiss Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The government's decision bans with immediate effect the sale or any kind of transfer of Gaddafi assets, including properties, for a period of three years.

Media reports said huge assets of the Gaddafi clans are not expected in Switzerland because billions of dollars of Libyan funds deposited in the Swiss banks were already transferred in the wake of a diplomatic crisis between the two countries following the arrest of Gaddafi's son Hannibal in Geneva in July 2008.

According to the estimates of the Swiss National Bank, Libyan deposits in the Swiss banks shrank from 5.7 billion francs to 630 million francs as a result of the transfer. It is still unclear how much wealth belongs to the Gaddafi clan, the reports said.

(Agencies)