Russian envoy meets Libya rebels, Tripoli bombed
President Dmitry Medvedev's envoy Mikhail Margelov was Tuesday meeting with Libyan rebel leaders in the first trip by a top Russian official to their stronghold, as NATO warplanes pounded the capital Tripoli.
"We have come to Benghazi to facilitate dialogue between the two camps," Margelov told reporters on touching down at Benghazi's airport.
"Russia is in a unique position because it already has an ambassador in Tripoli and now we are meeting with the rebel leadership today," he added.
Margelov, Medvedev's Africa envoy, told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency earlier he would meet rebel leaders including Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council that controls eastern Libya.
Medvedev said at the G8 summit last month that he would be sending an envoy to Libya, as Moscow seeks to present itself as a potential mediator between the rebels and Moamer Kadhafi's regime.
"A drawing out of the armed conflict will worsen the humanitarian situation not only in Libya but also in neighbouring states that are taking on Libyan refugees," Margelov told RIA.
Moscow has expressed alarm as NATO's air campaign to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone to protect civilians entered a new phase with the deployment of British and French attack helicopters over the weekend.
"This all threatens a dangerous destabilisation of the situation in the region."
A wave of explosions on Tuesday shook the centre of the Libyan capital, sending plumes of smoke billowing across an area in which strongman Moamer Kadhafi has his residence, an AFP correspondent witnessed.
The first blast rocked Tripoli at 10:45 am (0845 GMT) and was followed by seven others.
A column of smoke rose over a barrack in the complex which was "once again targeted by NATO" strikes, government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told journalists.
He added there had been "casualties" without providing further details.
The complex that includes Khadafi's residence has been consistently targeted by a NATO air campaign in Libya.
On Monday, NATO air raids on Tripoli targeted the communications of the battered regime, hitting offices of the state broadcaster and Kadhafi's military intelligence headquarters, officials said.
The Western military alliance said that its aircraft "delivered precision-guided weapons as part of a campaign which continues to degrade Kadhafi's ability to commit crimes on his own people."
A Libyan information ministry official said that NATO-led warplanes also hit offices of the state broadcaster but the alliance denied the charge.
"We did not target or hit the Libyan broadcast facilities," Wing Commander Mike Bracken, the NATO mission spokesman, told AFP. "What we did target was the military intelligence headquarters in downtown Tripoli."
NATO-led warplanes were in the air over the Libyan capital again on Monday evening. An AFP correspondent heard two loud explosions in the city centre at around 6:50 pm (1650 GMT).
State television said that a telecommunications centre was hit, cutting telephone lines in several areas while residents reported hearing an explosion in Tajura, a suburb east of Tripoli.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he will press allies to step up their contributions in the Libya air war to ensure the alliance can sustain its mission over a new 90-day mandate.
"I will request a broad support for our operation in Libya, if possible increased contributions, if possible more flexible use of the assets provided for our operation," he said.
The Libyan regime, meanwhile, insisted on its credibility after foreign journalists raised doubts over the case of a baby girl in hospital who officials said had been wounded in a NATO air strike.
Correspondents were taken to a Tripoli hospital on Sunday to see casualties from NATO air strikes and shown the child who was unconscious and hooked up to breathing equipment.
But a member of the hospital staff slipped a piece of paper into the pocket of one journalist, with a note in English: "This is a case of road traffic accident. This is the truth."
Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim insisted: "The government is credible."
© 2011 AFP