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Last of Gadhafi's strongholds overtaken

BY KIM GAMEL

AND RAMI AL-SHAHEIBI

The Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Facing little resistance, revolutionary fighters on Mondaycaptured the airport and other parts of a southern desert city that is one of the last remaining strongholds of Moammar Gadhafi's forces, even as military offensives stalled to the north.

The capture of Sabha would be a welcome victory for Libya's new rulers, who have struggled to rout forces loyal to Gadhafi a month after sweeping into Tripoli and forcing the ousted leader into hiding. He has not been found.

A push to capture Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte and the mountain enclave of Bani Walid has stalled as well-armed forces loyal to the fugitive leader fight back fiercely with rockets and other heavy weaponry. Libya's new rulers have frequently claimed gains only to find their forces beaten back.

A force of three southern brigades pushed into Sabha, deep in the Sahara Desert, yesterday. "Our flags are waving there over the airport and other parts of Sabha," Col. Ahmed Bani, the military spokesman for the transitional government, told reporters in Tripoli.

The airport is four miles from the center of Sabha, 400 miles south of Tripoli.

Hassan Moussa Tabawi, a spokesman of three southern brigades that led the takeover of Sabha, said revolutionary forces have control of most of the city but still face pockets of resistance in a few central neighborhoods occupied by Gadhafi loyalists and Gadhadhfa tribe.

"The airport is totally secure, and many residential neighborhoods have raised the liberation flag," he said by telephone from Sabha. The two sides clashed on Sunday, but he said the anti-Gadhafi fighters planned to take the rest of the city this morning.

"People were very happy to see us," Tabawi said.

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