Reports: Libyan revolutionaries capture Surt, Kadafi's hometown
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Revolutionary forces fighting under the banner of Libya's provisional government have captured the coastal city of Surt, the last major bastion of support for Moammar Kadafi, news agencies reported Thursday.
The reported fall of Surt comes almost two months after rebels seized control of Tripoli, the capital, ousting Libya's longtime ruler and sending him and many of his supporters into hiding or on the run. Kadafi had ruled the oil-rich North African nation for almost 42 years. He remains a fugitive, along with two of his sons and his former security chief, Abdullah Senussi.
Libya's transitional rulers have said that the capture of Surt would trigger a timetable for elections and the writing of a constitution in a land that has no experience with democratic governance. But the nation of 6 million still lacks a functional government. Armed militiamen are often the only law.
Some pro-Kadafi die-hards likely remain on the loose in the hinterlands of southern Libya and even in some cities. Last week, pro-Kadafi demonstrators even staged a minor uprising in a Tripoli neighborhood. Revolutionary forces quickly put down the revolt. But Surt, Kadafi's birthplace, was the final urban stronghold of the ex-ruler.
In recent days, revolutionary fighters had advanced into Surt block by block, cornering the pro-Kadafi forces into an ever-diminishing redoubt.
Early Thursday, the Associated Press reported, fighters stormed the final opposition-held district of Surt and sent pro-Kadafi gunmen scattering. Revolutionary forces killed at least 20 pro-Kadafi fighters who attempted to flee in vehicles, the AP reported.
The fight for Surt, which Kadafi turned into a showcase city, has been a bitter and bloody affair that has dragged on for more than a month after Libya's new rulers initially predicted it would last a few days. Much of the city lies in ruins after intense street combat, shelling and tank-led assaults. Pro-Kadafi fighters put up stiff resistance, taking up sniper positions in buildings and firing rockets and other ordnance at the former rebels, who stormed the town over and over in disorganized fashion.
Losses in Surt were heavy for both sides, and many civilians are also believed to have been killed in the battle for the coastal city, which was once home to about 100,000 people. There was no definitive total of casualties.
Earlier this week, Libya's transitional rulers said their forces had also gained control of another pro-Kadafi holdout town, the desert city of Bani Walid, 95 miles southeast of Tripoli.
From hiding, Kadafi has called on his followers to mount a guerrilla war against Libya's new rulers. The fall of Surt would seem likely to accelerate efforts by the former rebels to hunt down and capture Kadafi, thus definitively ending any prospect that the former leader could somehow lead a rebellion.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Libyan fighters for the transitional government run for cover during battle with troops loyal to Moammar Kadafi in the ousted leader's hometown of Surt. Credit: Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP/Getty Images