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(Updates with fighting in Sirte, Bani Walid in second, third paragraphs. See EXTRA for more on the Libyan conflict.)
Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Opponents of Muammar Qaddafi battled for control of Sirte, his birthplace, as the leaders of the U.K. and France pledged aid to Libya’s new rulers during a visit to Tripoli.
The Misrata Military Council said yesterday that its fighters took control of the entrances to Sirte and began searching for officials loyal to Qaddafi. They later seized the city’s airport, Al Jazeera television reported today.
The council’s forces also entered Bani Walid today, Al Jazeera said. Sirte and Bani Walid are among the last holdout cities in Libya, where Qaddafi loyalists have been resisting calls for a peaceful handover of control.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy became the first foreign leaders to visit Tripoli since helping the rebel forces of the National Transitional Council oust Qaddafi last month. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip arrived in the capital today as part of a tour of the Arab world.
Cameron and Sarkozy said they would push at the United Nations Security Council today for the adoption of a resolution releasing more Libyan assets frozen under sanctions against Qaddafi.
“This is not finished, this is not done, this is not over; there are still parts of Libya under Qaddafi’s control,” Cameron told a joint news conference in Tripoli yesterday. “We will help you to find Qaddafi and bring him to justice.”
Cameron and Sarkozy were cheered as they visited a Tripoli hospital in a visit televised by international broadcasters. They later addressed a crowd on Freedom Square in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the initial center of the rebel movement. Britain is releasing 600 million pounds ($950 million) of Libyan assets, Cameron’s spokesman, Steve Field, told reporters in London.
The Misrata council said earlier yesterday that Qaddafi loyalists were surrounded in an insurance building in central Sirte. Al Jazeera said the council’s forces withdrew after a day of fighting to prepare for an invasion of the city later today.
Elements of Qaddafi’s 32nd Brigade -- the special forces unit commanded by his son Khamis and tasked in the past with protecting the former Libyan dictator -- were trapped in beachfront villas, the council said.
The Misrata council said the Sirte attack was carried out with 900 “technicals,” the pickup trucks carrying machine guns or rocket launchers.
Sarkozy said airstrikes against pro-Qaddafi forces “will continue as long as Libyan leaders think Libyan people are in danger.”
“People have constantly underrated and underestimated the National Transitional Council; people said they couldn’t unite Libya, they were too tribal,” Cameron said, speaking alongside NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil and Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril. “It has been an impressive transformation. The roads are full, your water is flowing and your hospitals are working.”
The new leaders of Libya are seeking to build a country where there is a “rotation of power and the abandoning of terrorism,” Abdel Jalil said. “We aspire for freedom to prevail over all Libyan soil and for the arrest of Muammar Qaddafi alive, and his trial.”
Asked whether their intervention had been influenced by a desire to get at Libya’s oil wealth, Sarkozy said, “There were no kickbacks, no hidden agreements to access Libya’s resources. We did what we thought was fair.”
The North African country will resume crude exports within three or four days, the nation’s representative to a meeting of Arab central bank governors in Doha said yesterday. Output will be about 700,000 barrels a day by the end of this year and an estimated 1.6 million barrels a day by the end of 2012, Abdulla Saudi told reporters in the Qatari capital.
The U.K. has put forward a draft resolution to the UN Security Council to end an asset freeze on the Libyan National Oil Corp. and Zueitina Oil Co., according to a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of not being identified. The 15-member body may vote on the measure today.
The resolution also would authorize the Central Bank of Libya, the Libyan Foreign Bank, the Libyan Investment Authority and the Libyan Africa Investment Portfolio to use their assets for specified purposes. Those include purchases of humanitarian aid; fuel, electricity and water for civilian use; and the strengthening of Libya’s government and economy.
Eighteen of 19 Libyan ports are now “operational,” according to a notice to the UN’s shipping agency from the NTC published on the website of Inchcape Shipping Services yesterday.
--With assistance from Caroline Alexander, Robert Hutton, Gonzalo Vina and Alaric Nightingale in London; Ola Galal in Cairo; Robert Tuttle in Doha and Helene Fouquet in Paris. Editors: Karl Maier, Ben Holland, Heather Langan.
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