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Libyans claim progress in Gadhafi hometown

The Associated Press

SIRTE, Libya -- Revolutionary forces claimed Saturday to have captured parts of a sprawling convention center that loyalists of Moammar Gadhafi have used as their main base in the ousted leader's hometown. They also said they were shelling the city to try to rout snipers from rooftops in their offensive aimed at crushing this key bastion of the old regime.

The inability to take Sirte, the most important remaining stronghold of Gadhafi supporters, more than six weeks after the fall of Tripoli, the capital, has stalled efforts by Libya's new leaders to set a timeline for elections and move forward with a transition to democracy.

Gadhafi supporters also hold the enclave of Bani Walid, where revolutionary forces have been stymied by a challenging terrain. But the transitional leadership has said it will declare liberation after capturing Sirte because that will mean it holds all of the seaports and harbors in the oil-rich Mediterranean country.

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox pledged to keep up NATO airstrikes even after Sirte falls, saying the international military action would continue as long as the remnants of the regime pose a risk to the people of Libya.

"We have a message for those who are still fighting for Gadhafi that the game is over, you have been rejected by the people of Libya," he told reporters Saturday in Tripoli.

Revolutionary forces began a major attack on Sirte on Friday after a three-week siege from the outskirts of the coastal city, during which they said they were giving civilians time to flee. Saturday, fighters fired rockets into the city from the backs of pickup trucks, though visibility was severely limited by a sandstorm.

Abdel-Basit Haroun, a revolutionary field commander, said 32 people had been killed in two days of fighting, while the military council in the nearby city of Misrata, which has sent many fighters to Sirte, reported 80 wounded.

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