Africa

Libya revolt: Rebels advance from Ajdabiya to Brega

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Media captionThe BBC's Ben Brown says the rebels have made gains because of allied air raids

Libyan rebels have pushed on westwards after recapturing the key oil town of Ajdabiya from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

Reports said they later seized the town of Brega, 70km (44 miles) away.

The eastern towns along the coast had been lost one-by-one to advancing pro-Gaddafi forces before coalition airstrikes started last week.

Fresh air strikes have been reported at Sabha in central Libya.

Libyan state television said military and civilian areas had been hit, but there was no independent confirmation.

The TV also said there had been air strikes near Col Gaddafi's power base of Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast east of Tripoli.

Earlier, reports from besieged rebel-held Misrata said shelling ceased when coalition planes flew overhead.

"The shelling has stopped and now the war planes of allies are above the sky of Misrata. The shelling stopped when the planes appeared in the sky," one rebel told Reuters news agency.

France meanwhile said it had destroyed at least five military planes and two helicopters at Misrata air base on Saturday.

Misrata has become a key focus for the battle in western Libya: it is the only significant rebel-held city left, and has been under heavy bombardment for days.

Losses reversed

Libyan rebels began their uprising in mid-February, seeking to end Col Gaddafi's four decades in power.

Image caption The area around Ajdabiya is littered with destroyed military hardware

Coalition planes led by the US, UK and France have pounded targets across Libya for the past week, enforcing a UN no-fly zone aimed at protecting civilians.

The air strikes appear to have allowed the rebels to finally turn the tide on Col Gaddafi's forces in the east, and reverse their earlier losses.

A Libyan minister said the army had left the town after the "heavy involvement" of Western forces.

British RAF Tornado aircraft have been firing Brimstone guided missiles around Ajdabiya, a town of about 100,000 people.

The BBC's Ben Brown in Ajdabiya says those strikes seemed to be even heavier on Friday night, leaving wrecked tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery pieces at both the eastern and western gates to the town.

Some of the celebrating rebels chanted "Thank you, Obama", "Thank you, Cameron" - references to the US president and British prime minister.

Rebel forces then moved towards Brega.

A journalist travelling with the rebels told Agence France-Presse news agency they were now in the centre of the town and that government forces had fully withdrawn. Rebels also told Reuters they now controlled the town.

In his weekly address, US President Barack Obama said that the "clear and focused" military mission in Libya was succeeding.

"Make no mistake, because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians - innocent men, women and children - have been saved," he said.

In the capital, Tripoli, a distressed woman reached a hotel where foreign journalists are staying, and told them she had been detained for two days by pro-Gaddafi forces and gang-raped after being stopped at a checkpoint.

She was still telling her story when hotel staff and government minders tackled her, and she was dragged out of the hotel and driven away by security guards. Reporters say her story cannot be verified but she did show signs of injury.

A Libyan government spokesman later said the woman was drunk and possibly mentally ill, but said an investigation was being carried out.