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NATO strikes Libyan capital after Gadhafi appears

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110512/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

By DIAA HADID, Associated Press Diaa Hadid, Associated Press 21 mins ago

TRIPOLI, Libya – NATO airstrikes struck Moammar Gadhafi’s sprawling compound in Tripoli and three other sites early Thursday, hours after the Libyan leader was shown on state TV in his first appearance since his son was killed nearly two weeks ago.

Explosions thundered across the capital and ambulances raced through the city as the last missile exploded.

Government officials and state-run Libyan television said the strikes targeted Bab al-Azaziya, Gadhafi’s compound, but did not specify which buildings were hit. Reporters who were taken there later Thursday saw one missile-damaged building, and evidence that at least three missiles had hit the compound.

NATO, which has hit the Libyan capital repeatedly this week, said Thursday’s attack successfully hit “a large command and control bunker complex in downtown Tripoli that was used to coordinate attacks against civilian populations.”

In the eastern city of Benghazi, headquarters for the opposition movement trying to topple Gadhafi, rebel spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga claimed that anti-Gadhafi residents in the Tripoli area were staging peaceful demonstrations in many neighborhoods, prompting the regime to deploy troops and tanks in the streets that may have been diverted from other regions.

Ghoga, who did not specify the source of his information, said anti-Gadhafi militants had burned a police station in one suburb, and were setting up night patrols and checkpoints in other neighborhoods. There was no immediate independent confirmation of his claims; the foreign journalists in Tripoli are assigned government minders and limited in their movements.

After the early-morning airstrikes, medics arrived at Khadra Hospital with the bodies of two men they said were killed in the attack. One of bodies was charred; the other was covered by a green blanket, a leg dangling from the stretcher.

From a bus ferrying reporters to the hospital, smoke could be seen rising from part of the Gadhafi compound. Skid marks left from screeching vehicles crisscrossed the roads around it.

The medics said others had been killed by the airstrikes and were still being retrieved from the compound.

Gadhafi’s compound has been a frequent site of recent airstrikes, including one on April 30 that killed the leader’s son, Seif al-Arab. Officials said Gadhafi — Libya’s autocratic leader for 42 years — was in the compound when that strike occurred but escaped unharmed.

NATO has repeatedly said all its targets in Libya are military and that it is not targeting Gadhafi or other individuals. In its latest update Thursday, NATO denied targeting the North Korean Embassy in Tripoli — a response to a report by the Libyan state news agency JANA that the embassy had been damaged during one of this week’s strikes.

Gadhafi had seven sons and one daughter. He also had an adopted daughter who was killed in 1986 when a U.S. airstrike hit the Bab al-Aziziya residential compound in retaliation for a bombing attack on a German disco in which two U.S. servicemen were killed..

In an apparent effort to dispel rumors that Gadhafi himself had been killed, Libyan state TV showed him meeting tribal leaders, but did not record him speaking. To authenticate the scene, the camera zoomed in on the date on a TV monitor in the room, which read Wednesday, May 11. It was apparently recorded at the hotel where foreign correspondents must reside in Tripoli. Gadhafi did not make himself available to them.

The last time Gadhafi had been seen in public previously was April 9, when he visited a school in Tripoli.

Intensified NATO airstrikes on Gadhafi’s forces across Libya have given a boost to rebels fighting to oust the regime, with the opposition claiming Wednesday that it had captured the airport in the western city of Misrata. In all, NATO said, the alliance has carried out more than 2,400 airstrikes since March 31 as part of the effort to assist the rebels and pressure Gadhafi relinquish power.

Even though some of the recent reports of ground combat are difficult to confirm, they seem to represent a major boost for the rebels’ military prospects after weeks of stalemate on several fronts.

The rebels control most of eastern Libya, but Misrata — about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli — is the only rebel stronghold in the west. Local doctors say more than 1,000 of its residents have been killed in the fighting and shelling during the siege by Gadhafi’s forces.

In Tripoli, a government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, denied the Misrata rebels’ claims of success, saying regime forces still held the airport.

Ibrahim did acknowledge that the war was creating severe shortages of many commodities in Tripoli.

“The NATO airstrikes and the sea embargo … are badly influencing the lives of daily Libyans,” he said. “We have some shortages in fuel, food and medicine. It makes it difficult to go to schools, hospitals and factories.”

A potential humanitarian crisis was reported Thursday by the World Food Program in the mountain region of western Libya. Josette Sheeran, the WFP executive director, said fighting in the area between rebels and regime forces has prevented aid from reaching civilians trapped in some hard-to-reach villages.

She appealed for a cease-fire so deliveries could be made safely.

Britain said Thursday that it will supply police officers in rebel-held eastern Libya with uniforms and body armor, and help establish a public radio station. The announcement came after Prime Minister David Cameron and other ministers met in London with Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council.

Cameron said he had invited Abdul-Jalil to open a permanent office in London to help cement contacts with Britain, although Britain has not followed France and Italy in recognizing the council as Libya’s legitimate government.

___

Associated Press writers Michelle Faul in Benghazi and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.

Report: Syrian troops shelling residential areas

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110511/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Zeina Karam, Associated Press 22 mins ago

BEIRUT – The Syrian army shelled residential areas in the country’s third-largest city Wednesday, sending people fleeing for cover in a sharp escalation in the government’s attempts to crush a popular revolt against President Bashar Assad’s autocratic rule, according to activists and witnesses.

Heavy tank- and gunfire rocked at least three residential neighborhoods in the besieged city of Homs, which has seen some of the largest anti-government demonstrations during the seven-week-long uprising.

“There were loud explosions and gunfire from automatic rifles throughout the night and until this morning,” a resident told The Associated Press by telephone, asking that his name not be used for fear of government reprisals. “The area is totally besieged. We are being shelled.”

More than 750 people have been killed in a crackdown on the unrest and thousands of Syrians have been detained, with about 9,000 still in custody, said Ammar Qurabi, who heads the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.

Syrian authorities are determined to crush the uprising, despite rising international pressure against it. Assad has dispatched army troops backed by tanks to Homs and other communities across the country, saying soldiers and security forces are rooting out “armed terrorist groups” and thugs he says are behind the violence.

Assad has announced a series of reforms, widely viewed as symbolic overtures to appease protesters since the movement began in the southern city of Daraa in mid-March and quickly spread nationwide.

On Wednesday, he was quoted by Syria’s private Al-Watan newspaper urging Syrians to cooperate with the government so that the reform process may continue. He also pledged a swift solution to the issue of detainees who were jailed during the unrest.

Wednesday’s shelling targeted the Bab Sbaa, Bab Amr and Jouret el Aris neighborhoods, according to activists in Damascus who were in touch with residents in Homs. The city also is home to one of Syria’s two oil refineries.

Syrian television quoted a military official as saying that soldiers and security forces were pursuing “armed terrorist groups” and arrested tens of fugitives and seized large quantities of weapons.

The official, who was not identified, said two soldiers were killed and five wounded during confrontations Wednesday.

Germany, meanwhile, said several European countries were summoning Syrian ambassadors and threatening new sanctions targeting the country’s leadership if it doesn’t halt the repression of protesters.

The European Union already has decided to impose sanctions on 13 Syrian officials, prohibiting them from traveling anywhere in the 27-nation bloc. But the first round of sanctions doesn’t target Assad himself.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said European officials will make clear that “a second package that also includes the Syrian leadership” will follow if Syria does not immediately change course.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also urged Syria Wednesday to allow an international aid assessment team to enter Daraa. He told reporters in Geneva he is disappointed the assessment team “has not yet been given the access it needs.”

Ban added he had been assured by Assad that the team would be allowed into the city.

Despite the government crackdown, small demonstrations and candlelight vigils were reported in several areas in the past few days.

Activists said three protesters were killed late Tuesday when government forces fired on demonstrations in Jassem, one of a cluster of villages near Daraa.

In the coastal city of Banias, where the army has also sent soldiers and tanks and arrested hundreds as part of military operation, rights activists said electricity, water and communications have been restored.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said authorities also released some 300 people Tuesday after making them sign a pledge not to state protests. But he said an army tank was still deployed in the city’s main square were protests were held in past weeks.

Abdul-Rahman said at least seven civilians, including four women, were killed during military operations in the city.

___

Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2011/0411/Road-map-to-Libya-peace-comes-as-both-sides-show-signs-of-fatigue

Johannesburg, South Africa

Libyan rebels are studying a truce proposal from the African Union, a day after Libya’s embattled President Muammar Qaddafi signaled that he would be willing to explore a cease-fire to allow humanitarian organizations access to civilians caught in the crossfire.

The AU’s proposed “road map” to peace comes at a time when both Mr. Qaddafi’s forces and the rebels have shown signs of fatigue, with battlefield gains by one quickly erased by the other. A long-term settlement is still far off, as rebels say the only way they’ll agree to open discussions with the regime is if Qaddafi’s forces retreat and if Qaddafi himself steps down. Yet even if the cease-fire proves to be temporary, the AU’s efforts may help to quiet criticism of the AU as ineffective in times of conflict.

“This has significance beyond Libya,” says Steven Friedman, a senior political observer and head of the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg. “Five years ago, some of the responses we are seeing today would not have been possible. We are now at the stage where the AU is willing to step in and intervene in a conflict.”

IN PICTURES: Libya conflict

Presidential panel

A panel of five African presidents, including South African President Jacob Zuma, flew to Tripoli on Sunday to propose the cease-fire on humanitarian grounds, urging both sides to explore dialogue that would lead to a peaceful settlement.

The AU presidents also urged NATO to stop its air campaign against Qaddafi’s forces, a campaign that was itself backed by the United Nations Security Council in the interests of protecting civilians against Qaddafi’s use of heavy weapons in urban areas.

By organizing talks in Libya, the AU is taking back responsibility for resolving conflicts that many African leaders see as having been taken away from them when the UN Security Council approved a “no fly zone” in the spirit of protecting civilians.

In addition to its work in Libya, the AU has also been active in trying to broker peace talks in Ivory Coast, albeit with much less success so far. The AU has sent several high-level delegations to persuade incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and President-elect Alassane Ouattara to support a cease-fire and explore the possibility of a power-sharing government. Both men claim to have won the Nov. 28, 2010, runoff elections, although Mr. Ouattara’s claim has the benefit of broad support from the international community as well as the Ivory Coast’s own independent electoral commission.

‘Libyans must decide’

In Tripoli on Monday, the AU commissioner for peace and security, Ramtane Lamamra, told reporters that “it’s not up to any outside force, even the African Union itself, to decide on the behalf of the Libyan people on who the leader of the country should be.”

President Zuman of South Africa portrayed Qaddafi’s acceptance of the proposed “road map” to peace as a victory for the AU, and urged NATO to curb its aerial attacks.

“[Qaddafi’s] delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us,” Zuma said after meeting Qaddafi. “We have to give cease-fire a chance.”

But analysts caution against a plan that Qaddafi could see as bolstering his long-term prospects.

“If the deal is simply intended to allow humanitarian relief to have access, I don’t think anyone will have a problem with that,” adds Mr. Friedman. “The fear is that this will be an attempt to prop him [Qaddafi] up and keep him in power.”

IN PICTURES: Libya conflict

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