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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebels Pushed Out of Monrovia

MONROVIA, Liberia -- Fighters loyal to Liberia's President Charles Taylor pushed rebels out of the capital's port on Thursday after fierce battles that prompted a British call for U.S. intervention.

Military officials said rebels had retreated to the area around St. Paul's River Bridge, about 10 kilometers from the heart of Monrovia, and residents said the rattle of automatic gunfire had died down after intense overnight fighting.

"Our men managed to push them from the position they occupied over the last 24 hours up to Duala and beyond, but we still intend to push them further," one official said.

Duala, a bustling market area, is on the main road leading from the city center to St. Paul's River Bridge, a key access point into the coastal capital.

The fighting drew calls for U.S intervention in the West African country founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century. But one U.S. official said there were no plans to deploy any peacekeeping force.

People who had spent two days holed up in their homes in Monrovia ventured out early on Thursday searching for food. Pro-Taylor forces looted some businesses in the center of town.

Rebels punched into the port on Wednesday, firing rockets and mortars. Scores of people were killed in the battle, including several children when rockets exploded in a U.S. compound, witnesses said.

The lightning advance raised fears of a bloodbath in Monrovia, where thousands of terrified people are trapped between the fighting and the Atlantic Ocean. Aid workers say at least 300 people have been injured by bullets and shrapnel.

The showdown between Taylor and rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy is the culmination of a three-year bush war, but only the latest grisly chapter in nearly 14 years of violence.

It has wrecked hopes of a negotiated end to the war less than a week after a cease-fire had raised them.

The situation is complicated by the position of President Taylor, a U.S.-educated former warlord who is no friend of the United States and has been indicted for war crimes in Sierra Leone by an international court.

"What I have seen has made me more terrified than ever before," said one woman called Mercy, who was in the U.S. compound. "I saw a two-year-old girl whose head was cut off by the rocket. Another girl of five years of age was cut in two pieces," she said.

Aid workers said Wednesday that three Liberians were killed in the compound, which is less than 1 kilometer from the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. mission condemned the rebel attack.

Civil war killed 200,000 people in the 1990s before Taylor emerged as the dominant faction leader and won 1997 elections. Two rebel groups controlling 60 percent of the country want him out as soon as possible.