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Libya's NTC Forces Storm Bani Walid, Sirte


A former rebel fighter looks through binoculars as he stands in a convoy of revolutionary forces, moments before heading to the frontline in Bani Walid, at a checkpoint in Wadi Dinar, Libya, September 16, 2011.

A former rebel fighter looks through binoculars as he stands in a convoy of revolutionary forces, moments before heading to the frontline in Bani Walid, at a checkpoint in Wadi Dinar, Libya, September 16, 2011.

Forces of Libya's interim government are fighting their way through former leader Moammar Gadhafi's remaining strongholds as more world leaders express support for the country's interim government.

Transitional government forces stormed the desert town of Bani Walid early Friday, engaging in heavy fire with Gadhafi loyalists. Reports say interim government forces were retreating from the city center due to intense sniper fire.

The National Transitional Council fighters also faced fierce resistance from Gadhafi loyalists in the former leader's hometown, Sirte. Witnesses said NATO planes flew over Sirte as rapid gunfire and the explosion of heavy rockets filled the coastal Mediterranean town with smoke.

As revolutionary forces fight to push Gadhafi loyalists out of the few remaining strongholds, the whereabouts of the former leader remains unknown.

Meanwhile, the government of Niger announced Friday it will keep Gadhafi's son, Saadi, in custody and will not return him to Libya. Several Gadhafi associates and family members have escaped to neighboring countries in recent weeks.

NTC acquires UN seat

Meanwhile, the United Nations voted to turn over Libya's seat in the General Assembly to the country's National Transitional Council. The resolution was approved by a vote of 114 in favor, 17 against, with 15 abstentions, which gives the NTC the opportunity to choose an ambassador before next week's UNGA meeting.

VOA's U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer reports several diplomats say the country's U.N. ambassador, Mohamed Shalgham, will remain in the post. Ambassador Shalgham publicly defected during a Security Council meeting earlier this year.

Turkish PM arrives in Tripoli

Another boost of support for Libya's fledgling government came Friday during a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Jubilant Libyans and a NTC leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, welcomed Erdogan to the capital. He told the cheering crowds they are inspiration to others living in oppressive regimes. The Turkish leader will also travel to Benghazi as he wraps up a tour of Arab capitals.

The White House announced Friday that U.S. President Barack Obama will show his support for the NTC by meeting with Jalil next week on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York. A White House spokesman said the two will discuss the NTC's plans for a post-Gadhafi transition.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the U.S. is expanding efforts to help the NTC pinpoint Gadhafi's vast arsenal of weapons. But State Department spokesman Mark Toner would not confirm whether additional weapons experts were being sent to Libya.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy leaders reached out to the Libyan transitional government on Thursday during a visit to Tripoli and Benghazi. The European visitors said they would introduce a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council Friday to establish a U.N. mission in Libya and remove an international "freeze" on Libyan assets.

The resolution also would abolish the international arms embargo against Libya and lift a "no-fly zone" on civilian air travel in the Mediterranean nation.

'Give Up' encourages Cameron

Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy said they will help Libya's new government track down Gadhafi and extend its authority throughout the country, and they promised NATO's military support for Libya will continue as long as it is needed.

Cameron called on the fugitive leader and his followers to surrender.

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