Kadhafi presses assault as Ban calls for ceasefire

16th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi's forces pressed rebels in the west on Wednesday and threatened their eastern bastion of Benghazi, as UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate ceasefire.

With fighting on several fronts and casualties rising, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hoped the UN Security Council will vote on new measures against Libya as early as Thursday that might include a no-fly zone.

Elsewhere in the troubled region, Bahraini police killed at least three protesters and wounded dozens Wednesday when they cleared a protest camp in the capital's Pearl Square, opposition sources said.

The interior ministry said two policemen also died in the assault on pro-democracy demonstrators at the symbolic heart of the Shiite-led uprising against the Sunni monarchy.

In the month-old Libyan revolt, Kadhafi loyalists killed two rebel fighters and two civilians on Wednesday in an assault on the country's third-largest city of Misrata, a rebel spokesman reached by telephone said.

A witness in Zintan, the first western town to go over to the opposition, said "things were starting" there, as Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam predicted everything would be over in 48 hours.

And witnesses in Ajdabiya, the gateway to Benghazi, said fighting was still going on there although government sources said it had fallen on Tuesday and repeated that on Wednesday.

A doctor told AFP by telephone from the town's hospital that fighting was still going on Wednesday in and around in Ajdabiya, which also guards the road to Tobruk and the Egyptian border in the rebel-held east.

"We received four bodies today, all rebel fighters," Abdelkarim Mohammed said, adding that 22 dead, mainly civilians killed by artillery or air strikes, were brought in on Tuesday.

As talks resumed in the divided UN Security Council on a bid to secure a no-fly zone, Ban spokesman Martin Nesirky said the secretary general "is gravely concerned about the increasing military escalation by government forces, which include indications of an assault on the city of Benghazi.

"A campaign to bombard such an urban centre would massively place civilian lives at risk. The secretary general is urging all parties in this conflict to accept an immediate ceasefire and to abide by Security Council resolution 1970."

The February 26 resolution called for an end to Kadhafi's onslaught against opponents and imposed sanctions against his regime.

In Cairo, meanwhile, Clinton said "we want to do what we can to protect innocent Libyans against the marauders let loose by the Kadhafi regime."

"And yes, time is fast upon us. There is an urgency to it," she said in an interview with CBS television while visiting Libya's eastern neighbour Egypt.

Clinton stopped short of explicitly backing a no-fly zone, which has so far failed to gain enough international support to be imposed, saying only that it was one of a number of options under consideration.

But she said the Arab League's endorsement of action against one of its own members, including a no-fly zone, had had a major impact on the views of the major powers on the Security Council.

"I think that there was a sea change in opinion when the Arab League issued its statement on Saturday," she said.

Asked about opposition from veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia, Clinton said: "I think they are willing to talk about what's at stake here."

Britain, France and Lebanon, on behalf of the Arab nations, are seeking to overcome resistance to a no-fly zone.

"What we want to do is move as fast as possible and we will be stressing the urgency of the need for action this morning," British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said in New York.

And in a letter to the leaders of the other countries on the 15-nation council, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "Let us save the martyred Libyan people together. Time is now counted in days, or even hours."

But German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said "we have no wish to and we cannot take sides in a north African civil war."

A no-fly zone would amount to military action and ground forces could be needed as a follow up if it failed, and "we do not wish to start down a path which would eventually lead to German soldiers taking part in a war in Libya."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergy Lavrov has requested more information from Arab states on how a no-fly zone would be policed.

The two-part draft resolution calls for a no-fly zone and toughened sanctions against the Kadhafi regime, according to diplomats at the United Nations, which says the conflict has cost more than 1,000 lives.

In the turmoil, four New York Times journalists have gone missing in Libya, the paper said on Wednesday, as Britain's Guardian newspaper said one of its journalists has been freed from detention and safely left the country.

That brought a warning from White House spokesman Jay Carney, who said that "American journalists need to be allowed to do their work, not harassed or detained."

Libyan state television said on Tuesday that the army would soon move against Benghazi, and hundreds of people were streaming over the Egyptian border after fleeing Ajdabiya, Benghazi and other cities, an AFP correspondent said.

Kahdafi's son Seif al-Islam also said rebels would have safe passage out of the country.

"We don't want to kill, we don't want revenge, but you, traitors, mercenaries, you have committed crimes against the Libyan people: leave, go in peace to Egypt," he told Euronews.

Ironically, witnesses and coastguards said Libyan soldiers near the Tunisian border fired heavy weapons on rebels trying to flee by boat with their families.

In Bahrain, hundreds of riot police backed by tanks and helicopters moved into Pearl Square shortly after dawn Wednesday, a day after King Hamad declared a three-month state of emergency in a bid to quell the protests.

The king was boosted by the arrival in the strategic island state of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in line with a pact between the Arab monarchies of the Gulf.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gulf Arab states are on the "wrong track" in sending troops into Bahrain.

The protesters are demanding democratic reform from the Sunni dynasty that has ruled the archipelago -- home of the US Fifth Fleet -- for more than 200 years.

In Yemen, another regional hot spot, dozens of people were hurt when police fired live rounds and tear gas at anti-government demonstrators in the western port city of Al-Hudaydah, witnesses said.

And security forces in Damascus arrested more than two dozen demonstrators in a second day of rare protests that are banned under Syria's emergency laws.

Washington called on Damascus to exercise restraint.

© 2011 AFP

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