Libyan fighters seize Sirte airport

Progress in one of the last bastions of Gaddafi support claimed as Senator John McCain leads US delegation to Tripoli.

Libya''s NTC fighters capture Sirte airport
NTC fighters with the help of NATO air raids have been hitting Sirte with tank and rocket fire [AFP]

Forces of Libya’s interim government have captured the airport in Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte with support from NATO warplanes, one of two main remaining bastions of support for the deposed leader.

Sirte has withstood a two-week-long siege by fighters belonging to the National Transitional Council [NTC] hitting it with tank and rocket fire as well as NATO air raids.

But intense sniper and artillery fire from pro-Gaddafi forces has so far prevented the NTC forces from taking the city.

In video

US Senator John McCain, visiting Tripoli on Thursday, praised ‘the Libyan people’s victory’

Injured NTC fighters east of Sirte were transported via helicopter from Sedra airport at Ras Lanuf city to Benghazi on Thursday.

Fierce clashes resumed for the third day on a row on the around-about of Sirte from the eastern side, injuring dozens of the NTC fighters.

Thursday’s developments on the Sirte frontline coincided with a visit by a US delegation headed by John McCain, the influentail Republican senator and former presidential candidate, to the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

This was the first prominent visit by a US delegation since Gaddafi’s overthrow.

“Libyan people have inspired the world, the sacrifice of the Libyan people give Libyans a lasting chance for peace,” he said at a news conference.

“The next few month will shape the future. The NTC will announce a new cabinet and it is important for it to be inclusive of all.

“It is important of the NTC to bring in any armed groups under its responsible authority. They also need to bring Gaddafi and his family to justice.

McCain also encouraged free flow of trade and investment between the US and Libya.

Hunger strike

In other developments, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, a prime minister under Gaddafi, said through his lawyer that he had started a hunger strike in a prison in Tunisa in protest against a request for his extradition from the NTC.

Tunisian prosecutors say they have received the request and are therefore keeping him in prison despite him winning an appeal against a six-month jail sentence for crossing into Tunisia illegally.

Separately, Interpol issued an alert calling for the arrest of a second son of Gaddafi, putting pressure on Niger to detain Saadi Gaddafi who fled there three weeks ago.

The international police agency has already issued “red notices” seeking the arrest of Muammar Gaddafi and one of his sons, the politically prominent Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, as well as Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi.

The whereabouts of those three remain a mystery more than a month since Gaddafi’s rule was toppled.

Interpol, which is based in Lyon, said it issued an alert for Saadi Gaddafi at the request of the NTC, who accuse him of leading military units responsible for crackdowns on protests and of misappropriating property.

Niger says it has placed Saadi Gaddafi under surveillance after he was intercepted crossing its desert frontier.

Niger officials were not immediately available to comment on the Interpol arrest notice.

It has been more than a month since NTC fighters captured Tripoli, but Gaddafi remains defiantly on the run, pledging to lead a campaign of armed resistance against the new leaders.

Lack of co-ordination and divisions on the front have hampered NTC attempts to capture Sirte and the other bastion of Gaddafi’s control, Bani Walid.

Gaddafi is believed to be holed up near the western town of Ghadamis near the Algerian border under the protection of Tuareg tribesmen, a senior NTC military official has said. 

Many Tuaregs, nomads who roam the desert spanning the borders of Libya and its neighbours, have backed Gaddafi since he supported their uprisings against the governments of Mali and Niger in the 1970s and allowed them to settle in Libya.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies