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Libyan Forces Close in on Sirte

A member of the forces loyal to Libya's interim rulers flashes the victory sign as he prepares for an assault on Moammar Gaddafi's hometown Sirte September 24, 2011.
A member of the forces loyal to Libya's interim rulers flashes the victory sign as he prepares for an assault on Moammar Gaddafi's hometown Sirte September 24, 2011.

Libyan interim government forces backed by NATO warplanes have tightened their siege on Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, as hundreds of civilians attempted to flee the city through increasingly tense security checkpoints.

Anti-Gadhafi troops raced through Sirte's eastern outskirts Monday while NATO jets bombed loyalist positions for the third consecutive day. Scores of civilians in cars laden with personal belongings continued to exit the city in multiple directions.

National Transitional Council fighters from Misrata distributed food and water to fleeing families, but also pulled suspected loyalists from a column of civilians fleeing Sirte to the west. The Misrata fighters checked names of refugees against lists of suspected Gadhafi loyalists. Some were arrested.

Fleeing civilians said fighters on both sides are often motivated by vengeance. Others described grave shortages of food, fuel, drinking water and medicine in Sirte as medics warned of a growing health crisis. International aid groups are demanding access to the city.

Libya's interim justice minister said Monday he has approved a measure to abolish the country's state security courts used by Mr. Gadhafi to imprison political dissidents.

Mohammed al-Alagi said his proposal, drafted by judicial experts, will be forwarded shortly to NTC leaders for approval. The state security system jailed or executed thousands of people suspected of opposing Mr. Gadhafi's four-decade-long rule.

Libyans are pushing forward with efforts to disband some of the most reviled elements of the ousted leader's government, even while fighting continues and Mr. Gadhafi's whereabouts remain unknown.

Also Monday, Libya's interim prime minister asked the U.N. Security Council to lift remaining sanctions on his country.

Mahmoud Jibril told the Council in New York that sanctions are hindering the NTC's ability to provide basic services to citizens. The Security Council already has unfrozen $16 billion in Libyan assets, and the NTC hopes to gain access to more funds that remain locked.

On Sunday, Libya's interim rulers said they found a mass grave believed to hold the remains of 1,270 inmates killed by security forces in a notorious 1996 massacre.

Investigators used information obtained from witnesses and former Gadhafi officials to find the field scattered with bone fragments at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison. Authorities believe the bodies were kept in the prison before they were buried in 2000 just outside the building's walls.

Most of the inmates killed were political prisoners, including Islamic clerics and students who had dared to speak out against Mr. Gadhafi. In June 1996, they rioted to protest conditions at the facility and were gunned down by forces directed by some of Mr. Gadhafi's inner circle.

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