Anti-Gaddafi fighters capture Sirte’s port

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Anti-Gaddafi fighters overran Sirte’s port on Tuesday, scoring a strategic victory in their battle for control of the defeated Libyan leader’s birthplace, his loyalists’ most important bastion. In their other main redoubt of Bani Walid, however, Moamer Gaddafi’s forces went back on the offensive after loyalist radio in the desert town broadcast a message from the fugitive strongman rallying resistance to a weeks-long siege by National Transitional Council (NTC) forces. Hundreds of fearful civilians have fled Sirte, a Mediterranean city 360 kilometres (225 miles) east of Tripoli, as the new regime’s forces have closed in from east, south and west. And as the NTC troops zeroed in on the centre of the sprawling city where Gaddafi diehards are believed to be holed up, the threat of intense street fighting hung over the remaining residents.
“There were clashes in the night and we now are controlling the port,” said Commander Mustafa bin Dardef of the NTC’s Zintan Brigade. NTC troops said that fighting raged on Tuesday morning around Sirte’s Al-Batahady University where they had come under sniper fire from pro-Gaddafi forces hidden on the campus. Dr Yusuf al-Badri said that the overnight clashes were the fiercest of the battle for the city so far. “Today’s level of casualties was intense. We had some 40 fighters being treated of whom two died,” he said, adding that the average number of casualties in recent days had been around 20. A third slain NTC fighter was stretchered in shortly after he spoke. The port and university campus lie on the northeastern side of Sirte but it is in the city centre that Gaddafi’s compound and military bunkers lie and NTC fighters said they expected his remaining loyalists to put up fierce resistance.