Libya's revolutionary fighters say they have gained control of the town of Sirte - a move that could lead the provisional government to declare the country liberated.
National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters say they made a final push into the coastal town, Thursday, after encountering weeks of stiff resistance from well-armed loyalists to former leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Television video has shown cheering NTC fighters firing celebratory shots into the air and hoisting the new national flag in the city. News reports say NTC fighters are chasing fleeing Gadhafi loyalists.
The town, located about 360 kilometers east of Tripoli, is Gadhafi's hometown. It had been the last significant stronghold for his supporters, after provisional fighters gained control of the desert town of Bani Walid earlier this week.
Earlier, NTC officials said the capture of Sirte would allow them to declare the country liberated, because it would mean the provisional government controlled all of Libya's ports and harbors.
Meanwhile, there is no word on Gadhafi's whereabouts.
On Wednesday, acting Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril was quoted by the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper as saying Gadhafi was moving between Niger, Algeria and Libya's vast southern desert.
Jibril said the ousted leader has been trying to recruit fighters from Sudan to help him establish a separate state in the south, or to march north to destabilize the new government. He said Gadhafi is seeking to return to power by exploiting the political divisions among revolutionary forces. The report could not be confirmed.
On a visit to Libya Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed concerns about Gadhafi, saying she hoped he would be captured or killed.
During her trip, Clinton pledged millions of dollars in new aid for educational programs and medical care for wounded fighters. She also said more money will go toward securing stockpiles of weapons from Gadhafi's rule and destroying chemical weapon stocks.
U.S. officials say American aid to Libya since the conflict began totals $135 million.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.