NATO raids target Libyan capital
NATO carried out fresh bombing raids at the heart of Tripoli's regime on Saturday, the military alliance said after G8 world powers intensified the pressure on Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi to go.
The alliance launched a first salvo at 1:00 am (2300 GMT Friday) followed by another strike nine hours later in Kadhafi's Bab Al-Aziziya compound, which NATO aircraft have targeted for four successive days.
The strikes came after US President Barack Obama had said the United States and France were committed to finishing the job in Libya, and as Russia finally joined explicit calls for Kadhafi to go.
"We are joined in our resolve to finish the job," Obama said after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the G8 summit of industrialised democracies in France.
But Obama warned the "UN mandate of civilian protection cannot be accomplished when Kadhafi remains in Libya directing his forces in acts of aggression against the Libyan people."
His comments were followed only hours later by fresh air strikes on a command and control centre in Bab al-Aziziya, a NATO mission spokesman told AFP. "Three bombs were dropped on the Tripoli target," he said on condition of anonymity.
An AFP correspondent said the second strike, which caused a powerful explosion, hit an army barracks at around 10:00 am.
The series of blasts have caused the collapse of sections of imposing walls around the barracks, which is full of warehouses, although the Libyan authorities say they have been emptied.
The NATO spokesman, however, said the target of two or three bombs at the time was a vehicle storage area in Bab al-Aziziya.
Earlier, the official news agency Jana said civilian sites in the Al-Qariet region, south of the capital, had been targeted in air raids.
In a statement, NATO said its warplanes struck a command and control facility in Tripoli on Friday and hit ammunition storage facilities in Kadhafi's hometown of Sirte, in Mizdah south of the capital and the town of Hun in central Libya.
Elsewhere, rebels fought Kadhafi loyalists near an oil facility in the eastern crossroads town of Ajdabiya, in a clash which left two insurgents dead, rebel commander Jamal Mansur told AFP.
Sporadic clashes were also reported around the rebel-held southern oasis town of Jalo.
The port city of Misrata, meanwhile, was crawling back to normal life, said Fadl Moukadem from Mercy Corps, a non-government organisation.
"A lot of checkpoints have been removed, traffic lights have started working, the city is busy cleaning the sand used to block the roads, and workers are watering the grass in public parks and roundabouts," he told AFP.
He said vegetable prices were also falling, while shops, especially clothes stores, were open and women returning to streets for their daily purchases.
On Friday, G8 leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US called for Kadhafi to step down after more than 40 years in the face of pro-democracy protests turned full-fledged armed revolt.
"Kadhafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfil their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go," they said in a final statement.
But the Libyan regime rejected the call and said any initiative to resolve the crisis would have to go through the African Union, which on Thursday called for an end to the NATO strikes.
"The G8 is an economic summit. We are not concerned by its decisions," said Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaaim.
Tripoli, he said, had no confirmation of a change in Moscow's position after President Dmitry Medvedev toughened Russia's stance at the G8 meeting by declaring: "The world community does not see him (Kadhafi) as the Libyan leader."
Kaaim confirmed the visit on Monday of South African President Jacob Zuma, without indicating whether Kadhafi's exit would be discussed as the South Africans have claimed.
The Libyan regime says it wants a monitored ceasefire.
But NATO insists it will keep up its air raids until Kadhafi's forces stop attacking civilians and until the regime's proposed ceasefire is matched by its actions on the ground.
Arab League chief Amr Mussa said there was a yawning gap between Tripoli and the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) on Kadhafi's fate, with the rebels demanding he go immediately and the regime saving his exit for "later."
NTC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil on Saturday welcomed the apparent shift in Russia's position by distancing itself from Kadhafi.
"We value the role of Russia in international affairs," he told reporters in the rebel capital of Benghazi, while stressing that two-way ties had to be based on "mutual interest and common respect."
Senegal on Saturday became the latest country to recognise the rebels council as Libya's legitimate representative, joining Gambia, France, Italy and Qatar.
Meanwhile Kadhafi's wife Sofia on Friday slammed strikes against the strongman and his family, and accused NATO forces of "committing war crimes."
"I was not there. But I wished that I was so I may die with him," she told CNN on the telephone, describing the reported death of her son Seif al-Arab from a NATO strike.
International forces, which have been attacking Kadhafi forces under the terms of a UN resolution to protect civilians, "are looking for excuses to target Moamer. What has he done to deserve this?" she asked.
© 2011 AFP