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Libyan opponents of Muammar Qaddafi captured the Al-Gurdabia airbase south of Sirte as fighters faced fierce resistance from loyalist forces in his remaining strongholds.

The airbase outside Qaddafi’s birthplace on the Mediterranean coast was captured yesterday, the opposition’s military council in Misrata said in a statement. At least 18 soldiers have been killed and 51 wounded in fighting around Sirte since Sept. 15, the council said.

Libyan National Transitional Council forces have also faced stiff resistance from Qaddafi loyalists in Bani Walid. National Transitional Council forces were forced to pull back yesterday from the mountain town under heavy shelling, Al-Jazeera television reported, citing its correspondent.

The fighting continued as the opposition’s ruling council worked to establish its authority in Libya and improve ties with other countries. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted yesterday in the capital, Tripoli, by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council. Erdogan said Turkey would aid Libya militarily and politically, and offered help with building a parliament, telling a crowd, “Libya belongs to Libyans.”

Erdogan’s trip follows a visit on Sept. 15 by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the first foreign leaders to visit Tripoli since helping the rebel forces oust Qaddafi last month. U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Abdel Jalil at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 20.

The military council in Misrata, one of the main rebel strongholds during the seven-month conflict, said on Sept. 15 that its fighters took control of the entrances to Sirte, and began searching for officials loyal to Qaddafi. They deployed 900 armed pickup trucks: the largest fleet assembled by the forces for a single operation against Qaddafi’s supporters since the uprising began in February. Bloomberg

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