Fighting Continues In Gadhafi's Hometown

Anti-Gadhafi fighters are pushing ahead with their offensive in Sirte, the last main bastion of support for the ousted Libyan leader. It's been slow going for the anti-Gadhafi forces, despite air support from NATO. Guy Raz talks to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro for more.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

And we take you now to the hometown of ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Sirte is on the Mediterranean Coast, and heavy fighting continues there as anti-Gadhafi fighters try to take over the city. They're meeting fierce resistance with hundreds injured and dozens killed over the past few days alone. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was in Sirte today and sent this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The city of Sirte was lavished with gifts under Gadhafi. It thrived in his reflected glory. Now, it's being brutally, unrelentingly targeted. Today, anti-Gadhafi fighters pushed farther into central Sirte that made limited headway. There were still battles raging near the conference center and the hospital.

MOHAMMAD LAKHRA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fighter Mohammad Lakhra(ph) says the reason there is such stiff resistance is because loyalists in the city know this is a fight to the death.

LAKHRA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If they surrender, he says, they will be killed. If they fight, they will be killed. They will die either way, he says. The anti-Gadhafi fighters here are from all over the country: Benghazi to the east, Misrata to the west, places that have suffered at the hands of Gadhafi's loyalists. They've all converged here now to take down the city, and the areas they've already conquered are a testament to the wrath.

This is one of the most destroyed areas I've seen in all of the fighting in Libya. This is the road leading to the conference center, and the houses here have been completely demolished. They are riddled with bullets. They look like they're about to fall down. Some of them are still burning, utterly abandoned, utterly silent.

Inside the Ouagadougou Conference Center, anti-Gadhafi fighters wander around, marveling at its now wounded splendor. This vast compound was Gadhafi's showpiece. He hosted lavish summits here. He'd enshrined his self-proclaimed title of king of Africa. The ceilings are as high as a cathedral, though with none of the piety. Massive teardrop chandeliers crowd rooms littered with gilt and damask chairs.

Hanging from the walls are banners with pro-African slogans. Gadhafi gave a lot of Libya's money to African nations, propping up corrupt dictatorships and rebel movements in neighboring African countries. He hosted those leaders here. Now, the conference center is in tatters, blasted and burned from fighting. Fighters cart away the spoils, loading up with computers, TV screens and paintings that hung on the walls.

MOHAMMAD DOURJAB: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fighter Mohammad Dourjab(ph) says he never imagined there would be so much opulence. This is where our money went, he says. We were never allowed to enter here before. Away from the fighting, captured Africans in handcuffs are held in the back of a truck. These men, from Sudan, say they were prevented from leaving Sirte by Gadhafi's loyalists. They are not fighters, they claim. But the color of their skin, one says, condemns them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

Their skin is black - they say you're a fighter if you're like that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Their future is unclear now. Most of those captured are being taken to Misrata. The anti-Gadhafi forces have no love of suspected mercenaries, and there have been allegations of abuse. Now that the tables have turned, it's the former rebels who are being accused of using excessive force against the vanquished.

It is only a matter of time now before Sirte falls. The loyalists there are surrounded. There is nowhere left for them to run. But they are extracting a heavy price for this symbolic victory.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At a field hospital located in what had been one of Gadhafi's sons' summer residences, the wounded are brought in to be treated, the dead are transported back for a speedy burial. The doctors here are now using helicopters to take patients 150 miles for further treatment in Misrata. We flew back with them. One of the fighters was near death, his doctor says, after being shot near his heart.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Two shots?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

Near the heart. Near the heart. And he's in coma now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's been almost eight months of fighting here, and while the end is in sight, it's still not over. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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