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Libyan Rebels Claim Control of Misrata Airport


A rebel army officer teaches the use of a weapon to civilians, who have volunteered to join the rebel army, in Benghazi, May 11, 2011

A rebel army officer teaches the use of a weapon to civilians, who have volunteered to join the rebel army, in Benghazi, May 11, 2011

Libyan rebels in the besieged western city of Misrata say they have taken control of the municipal airport following days of heavy fighting, seizing large quantities of weapons and ammunition in a significant victory against forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi.

VOA's Elizabeth Arrott speaks about the changing picture in Libya:

Opposition military sources in Misrata, including the commander at the airport, said Wednesday that rebels have secured the entire facility, which had become the main base for pro-Gadhafi forces in the city.

The rebels entered the airport after a series of coordinated NATO airstrikes on government artillery batteries and military vehicles. The New York Times reported that by Wednesday evening, residents in the battered city, under siege for almost two months, began celebrating.

Late Wednesday, Mr. Gadhafi made his first television appearance since a NATO airstrike on a house in the capital, Tripoli, killed one of his sons and three grandchildren on April 30. Libyan state television filmed him at a brief meeting with tribal leaders. A projection screen behind Mr. Gadhafi showed Wednesday's date.

Meanwhile, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski visited the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi Wednesday to demonstrate European support for their cause and deliver medical aid. Sikorski told opposition leaders that the people of Poland and the EU "wish the Libyan nation victory in the transition to democracy."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday urged the Libyan government stop its assault and allow humanitarian access to civilians in need. Mr. Ban made the request during a phone call to to Libya's prime minister, al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi.

Also Wednesday, a leading U.S. senator said he is drafting legislation to authorize the transfer of Mr. Gadhafi's frozen assets to the opposition Transitional National Council. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, did not disclose the amount of cash, but said it would be enough to impact the crises faced by the council.

Senator Kerry spoke after meeting in Washington with Libyan opposition leaders, including Mahmoud Jibril, head of the council's crisis committee.

Earlier, the U.N. refugee agency called on European nations and boat captains in the Mediterranean to rescue people fleeing Libya's conflict. Agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Tuesday that any boat leaving Libya should be considered in need of assistance.

She urged governments and captains not to wait for distress calls but to head immediately to the vessels to see if the people on board are in need of help.

Fleming commented after a flimsy vessel reportedly overloaded with more than 600 passengers capsized Friday shortly after leaving Libya. At least 16 bodies have been recovered.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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