Bloomberg News

Libyan Opposition Fighters Engage Qaddafi Loyalists at Sirte

September 17, 2011

(Updates with UN comment in eighth paragraph.)

Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Libyan opponents of Muammar Qaddafi captured the Al-Gurdabia airbase south of Sirte as fighters faced fierce resistance from loyalist forces around one of his last strongholds.

The airbase outside Qaddafi’s birthplace on the Mediterranean coast was captured yesterday, the opposition’s military council in Misrata said in a statement. At least 18 soldiers have been killed and 51 wounded in fighting around Sirte since Sept. 15, the council said.

Libyan National Transitional Council forces have also faced stiff resistance from Qaddafi loyalists in Bani Walid. National Transitional Council forces were forced to pull back yesterday from the mountain town under heavy shelling, Al-Jazeera television reported, citing its correspondent.

The fighting continued as the opposition’s ruling council worked to establish its authority in Libya and improve ties with other countries. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted yesterday in the capital, Tripoli, by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council. Erdogan said Turkey would aid Libya militarily and politically, and offered help with building a parliament, telling a crowd, “Libya belongs to Libyans.”

Erdogan’s trip follows a visit on Sept. 15 by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the first foreign leaders to visit Tripoli since helping the rebel forces oust Qaddafi last month. U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Abdel Jalil at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 20.

Search for Officials

The military council in Misrata, one of the main rebel strongholds during the seven-month conflict, said on Sept. 15 that its fighters took control of the entrances to Sirte, and began searching for officials loyal to Qaddafi. They deployed 900 armed pickup trucks: the largest fleet assembled by the forces for a single operation against Qaddafi’s supporters since the uprising began in February.

Ian Lee, a U.S. freelance producer working for CNN, was injured today by shrapnel during the fighting, he said in an interview at a field hospital.

The United Nations’ decision to allow members of the National Transitional Council to represent Libya at the world body shows that international recognition of the rebels is “very strong indeed,” UN special adviser Ian Martin said from Tripoli today in an interview with Al Jazeera television. He said the UN wants the rebels to “complete the transition with as little bloodshed as possible.”

The UN Security Council dropped sanctions yesterday on two Libyan oil companies and eased restrictions on four banks in a move to boost the nation’s recovery from the conflict.

Martin also told Al Jazeera that “the liberation of weapons,’ especially Qaddafi’s heavy weapons, outside NTC control ‘‘is going to be a significant problem for some time to come.”

--With assistance from Digby Lidstone in Cairo. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Robert Valpuesta

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Stephen in Libya at cstephen9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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