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Libyan forces control stronghold

By Kim Gamel
Associated Press / October 18, 2011

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TRIPOLI, Libya - Libyan revolutionary forces have captured almost all of Bani Walid, one of Moammar Khadafy’s last remaining strongholds, but still face pockets of resistance as they try to end a weekslong standoff, officials said yesterday.

Fighters in Bani Walid, which has proven particularly hard to capture because of its difficult terrain, said they have entered the city center for the first time but still were fighting Khadafy supporters in surrounding villages.

“Now we are controlling more than 90 percent of Bani Walid,’’ military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Bani told reporters in Tripoli. He said revolutionary forces had suffered heavy casualties but declined to give a number.

Residents and fighters said that Khadafy forces retreated in the face of the advance over the past two days.

Fierce resistance in Bani Walid and Khadafy’s hometown of Surt has prevented Libya’s new leaders from declaring full victory and setting a timetable for elections. It has been more than two months since the former rebels gained control of the rest of the oil-rich North African nation.

In a step toward normalcy, the transitional leadership council confirmed it has signed an agreement with NATO that partly lifts the no-fly zone imposed in March over the country, allowing resumption of some flights without seeking NATO approval. The embargo was imposed as part of the UN Security Council resolution that authorized airstrikes to protect civilians from Khadafy’s regime.

Anwar Elfeitori, the minister of transportation and communications, said the agreement signed Thursday in Malta will make it easier to transport wounded fighters from the front lines for treatment.

“The partial lifting of the air embargo will help with the transportation of the casualties, which is the number one priority at this time, as well as facilitate the movement of people between Libya and the rest of the world,’’ Elfeitori said.

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