Libyan Rebels Make Major Gains, Take Misurata Airport

May 12, 2011, 10:18 by R.E. Christian

Libyan rebels in the port city of Misurata, besieged for weeks by forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi, captured the city's airport, witnesses said Wednesday.

Witnesses told the BBC rebel forces seeking an end to Gadhafi's four-decade rule drove back government forces who abandoned tanks that celebrating forces set on fire.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate cease-fire in Libya Wednesday, saying he had spoken with Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi and would send an envoy to Tripoli soon, The Washington Post reported.

"People's demands for greater freedom and fundamental political change have been met by repression and brutality," Ban said during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ban said he told the prime minister "Libyan authorities must stop attacking civilians."

Witnesses reported hearing explosions in the capital Tripoli Wednesday while NATO reported said its planes have undertaken 6,000 missions over Libya since assuming command of military operations there at the end of March.

The air strikes have helped to bolster rebels in their strongholds in eastern Libya, but observers say it's unclear whether the airstrikes have loosened Gadhafi's hold on western Libya.

Witnesses said rebels captured the Misurata airport after hours of fighting pro-Gadhafi forces overnight. The airport has been a key base for Gadhafi's forces and heavy weapons during the weeks-long siege of the city.

Misurata, Libya's third-largest city, is the only significant western rebel holdout and is vital because of its deep-water port. Government forces have planted anti-shipping mines off the harbor and set fuel storage tanks on fire, rebels and human rights groups report.

Source: UPI