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Libyan Rebels Gain Ground


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour in Libya. We've been hearing for weeks about the besieged port city of Misrata. Well, the people of Libya's third largest city have been surrounded on all sides and have faced relentless bombardment by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Hundreds have been killed in the fighting.

Today, news coming out of Misrata suggests that rebels have gained significant ground in the past few days. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last night in Misrata, there was the unfamiliar sight of dancing in the streets. Residents, who have been holed up in their homes for weeks, facing the relentless bombardment of Grad missiles and other heavy weapons, ventured out to celebrate the news of the victory.

The civilian airport had been the scene of fierce fighting for days, but late yesterday, the rebels took it over. The rebels also say they've moved into the air force academy. These are key and hard won victories. Rebels say, though, there is still fighting at the western and eastern gates of Misrata. Eighty percent of the city, they say, is in rebel hands, but the rest is contested.

But there is a calmer air, rebels say. Life feels more normal. There is more traffic on the streets, and the people feel less afraid of being hurt in random bombardments.

Still, the situation is far from resolved. Misrata is encircled, and the only way in or out is by perilous sea journey. The newly-captured airport could provide a new lifeline to bring in supplies to the city, but it remains to be seen in what state it's been left.

NATO says, overnight, pro-Gadhafi forces in a number of small boats attacked the port in Misrata. NATO ships came under fire. They responded, and then the Gadhafi vessels withdrew. Regime forces have repeatedly laid mines in the harbor, which has hampered the ability to get aid into the city.

In Tripoli, NATO is keeping up the pressure with more airstrikes against high-profile targets, including Gadhafi's compound of Bab al-Azizia. He's no longer thought to reside there, but the government in Tripoli says three people were killed and 25 injured in the strikes.

The Italian foreign minister says an arrest warrant against Gadhafi could be issued by the International Criminal Court by the end of the month. The ICC has said it may soon issue arrest warrants for three senior regime figures for crimes against humanity.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Benghazi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.