An Associated Press reporter says smoke is rising from parts of the city on Libya's central Mediterranean coast. NATO warplanes are overhead.
Gaining control of Sirte would be a major victory for Libya's new leadership as it tries to crush the remains of Gadhafi's regime. But loyalist units appear well armed and disciplined in strongholds such as Sirte and Bani Walid, where revolutionary fighters staged another offensive Friday.
The battles coincide with a visit to Tripoli by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BANI WALID, Libya (AP) — Libyan revolutionary forces faced fierce resistance as they streamed into one of the remaining bastions of support for Moammar Gadhafi on Friday, while the Turkish prime minister met with the country's new rulers in the capital Tripoli.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit came a day after the French and British leaders traveled to Libya as the international community rallies around the interim government's efforts to establish legitimacy and start rebuilding the country despite continued fighting against loyalists of Gadhafi, who remains on the run.
Libyan fighters in dozens of pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons were making their way from the north into the center of town of Bani Walid, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli. Explosions and gunfire resounded across the area and smoke billowed into the sky as fierce clashes broke out.
One of the fighters, Hisham Nseir, said the frontline is "very heated and chaotic" and his troops were meeting with heavy resistance from Gadhafi's men.
Commander Abdullah Abu-Asara told The Associated Press that his men were just over a mile (2 kilometers) away from reaching the very heart of Bani Walid and that the main obstacle in their way was Wadi Zaytun, an elongated valley full of Gadhafi snipers.
As they advanced, the fighters erected the new Libyan flag over an abandoned electricity building and a military headquarters in the northern part of Bani Walid. Around the buildings lay a huge Gadhafi poster bent in half and torn billboards with pictures of the ousted dictator. The walls were still sprayed with graffiti reading, "Long live Moammar."
"Today is the first day that we have completely taken over this part of Bani Walid," said Abul-Asara. "We are staying here."Libyan fighters also have converged on Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte to the north of Bani Walid.
NATO airstrikes continued to pound pro-Gadhafi targets. The alliance said it struck multiple rocket launchers, air missile systems, armored vehicles and a military storage facility in Sirte on Thursday. NATO has conducted over 8,500 strikes on Libya since late March.
Abdel Salam, a fighter on the frontline near Sirte, said his side lost 11 men late Thursday, killed as their bus drove over a roadside bomb. He said at least 18 fighters were detained by Gadhafi loyalists after they were ambushed at the entrance of Sirte.
"We reached inside Sirte and then retreated," Salam said.
As the battles centered on Bani Walid, Sirte and the city of Sabha, deep in the southern desert, Libya's interim leadership has been pushing forward with efforts to form a new government.
Erdogan was greeted at the airport by Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council, the closest thing Libya has to a government. He traveled to Libya as part of a tour of the Arab world, including Egypt and Tunisia, that is aimed at offering help for the countries and advancing his growing status as a regional leader.More...