Tag Archive: Tripoli


Libyan forces battle rebels on Tunisian border

Libyan soldiers loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi are seen in the city of Tarhounahttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110428/wl_nm/us_libya

By Lin Noueihed and Abdelaziz Boumzar Lin Noueihed And Abdelaziz Boumzar 1 hr 40 mins ago

TRIPOLI/DEHIBA, Tunisia (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi battled rebels on Thursday for control of a border crossing into Tunisia, provoking an angry protest from Tunis as fighting spilled on to its territory.

Early in the day Gaddafi’s troops stormed the Dehiba-Wazin crossing on Libya’s western frontier, in what appeared to be part of a broader government offensive to root out rebel outposts beyond their eastern heartland.

Tunisia strongly condemned incursions by government forces, when Libyan artillery shells also struck the Tunisian side of the crossing, and demanded that the Libyans put a stop to them.

“Given the gravity of what has happened … the Tunisian authorities have informed the Libyans of their extreme indignation and demand measures to put an immediate stop to these violations,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry said.

Rebels rapidly staged a counter-offensive for the border post they took only a week ago, and which controls the sole supply road for rebels in Libya’s Western Mountains.

Both sides in the civil war, where Gaddafi is fighting to prolong more than four decades of rule over the oil-producing nation, also disputed whether government forces had overrun a remote desert town in the southeast of the country.

After weeks of advances and retreats by rebel and government forces along the Mediterranean coast, fighting has settled into a pattern of clashes and skirmishes.

Nowhere was the fog of war thicker than at Dehiba-Wazin crossing.

“Fighting broke out on Tunisian territory, in Dehiba, after Gaddafi’s forces attacked the border crossing,” said Ali, a Tunisian involved in helping Libyans arriving in Dehiba, adding that the rebels had withdrawn into Tunisia.

Gaddafi’s soldiers apologized to their Tunisian counterparts for the incursion and hoisted their flag at the border, tearing down a pre-Gaddafi era flag that had fluttered for a few days.

Libyan state television said some rebels had been killed and others taken prisoner in the recapture of the border post.

The counter-attack came rapidly. “The rebels in the mountains are firing at the Libyan positions,” said Reuters cameraman Abdelaziz Boumzar.

Rebel Akram el Muradi said the battle was going the rebels’ way. “Gaddafi’s forces are going out and leaving, the Libyan freedom fighters are chasing them,” he said.

However, he admitted that the battle was not over and Boumzar, who was watching the fighting from Tunisian territory, said government soldiers were still at the post.

“BALL IN NATO’S COURT”

In the confusion, scores of vehicles headed for the border from the Tunisian side with civilians on board shouting “We’ve won! We’ve won!” but they made a swift turn back when they found Gaddafi’s forces were still there.

Loss of the crossing would cut off rebels in the Western Mountains from their only road to the outside world, making them rely on rough tracks for supplies of food, fuel and medicine.

Government troops again shelled the besieged rebel outpost of Misrata, where aid ships bring in emergency supplies and evacuate the wounded, killing at least nine civilians, one rebel spokesman said. There was no independent confirmation.

Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam said from Misrata that there had been sporadic clashes on the road to the port and shelling of residential areas. “Those areas are packed with civilians who fled the fighting in the city center,” he said.

“The ball is now in NATO’s court. After Gaddafi’s soldiers and snipers were driven out from the city center and Tripoli Street by the rebel fighters, their strategy has been to shell the city from the outskirts. This can only be solved by NATO.”

The Western alliance has been conducting air strikes on Libya since last month under a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for civilians to be protected.

But it has been reluctant to fire on Gaddafi’s forces in Misrata for fear of hitting civilians, although rebels said on Wednesday it had destroyed 37 military vehicles overnight.

An international aid ship, with 850 migrant workers who were evacuated from Misrata during a lull in shelling, docked in Benghazi on Thursday. The workers, mostly from Niger, were being taken to the Egyptian border for repatriation.

KUFRA “PURIFIED”

Gaddafi forces also took a town in the remote southeastern desert, state television reported. “Libyan forces have seized full control of the town of Kufra and purified it of the armed gangs,” it quoted a military spokesman as saying.

But rebels in their Benghazi stronghold denied the town had fallen. “Gaddafi’s forces have been shelling Kufra since this morning and in the afternoon they entered the town. But they are not in full control. The battle is not over and the situation is unclear,” said rebel spokesman Mohamed al-Muntasser.

In the Western Mountains, Zintan came under heavy fire for a second day from Russian-made missiles. “Today alone, 80 missiles hit the town. We knew they were Grad missiles by the sound they make and we checked what remained of them,” a rebel spokesman, identifying himself as Abdulrahman, said by telephone.

Gaddafi denies his forces are attacking civilians and says his opponents are Islamist militants and foreign-backed agitators who deliberately put non-combatants in harm’s way.

The U.S. Treasury has moved to permit oil deals with the rebel council in Benghazi, which is struggling to provide funding for the battle-scarred areas under its control.

Trading house Vitol has shipped at least one cargo of diesel to the rebels, easing the fuel shortage and potentially unlocking more Libyan oil for export to the West.

Libya is producing only a fraction of its pre-war output and its refineries are idle, so the rebels have been looking to clinch swap deals that involve selling oil and getting oil products in exchange. Trade sources said a diesel cargo on the tanker Delos was loaded in Malta and shipped to Benghazi just over a week ago.

(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Algiers, Guy Desmond and Maher Nazeh in Tripoli, Deepa Babington and Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi, Tarek Amara in Tunis, Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Sami Aboudi in Cairo, Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Jessica Donati in London; writing by David Stamp; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Air strike flattens building in Gaddafi compound

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110425/wl_nm/us_libya

By Lin Noueihed Lin Noueihed Mon Apr 25, 5:46 am ET

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – NATO forces flattened a building inside Muammar Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah compound early on Monday, in what a press official from Gaddafi’s government said was an attempt on the Libyan leader’s life.

Firefighters were still working to extinguish flames in part of the ruined building a few hours after the attack, when foreign journalists were brought to the scene in Tripoli.

The press official, who asked not to be identified, said 45 people were hurt in the strike, 15 of them seriously, and some were still missing. That could not be independently confirmed.

Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam said the Libyan government would not be cowed by such attacks.

“The bombing which targeted Muammar Gaddafi’s office today… will only scare children. It’s impossible that it will make us afraid or give up or raise the white flag,” he was quoted as saying by the Jana state news agency.

“You, NATO, are waging a losing battle because you are backed by traitors and spies. History has proved that no state can rely on them to win.”

Gaddafi’s compound has been hit before, but NATO forces appear to have stepped up the pace of strikes in Tripoli in recent days. A target nearby, which the government called a car park but which appeared to cover a bunker, was hit two days ago.

The United States, Britain and France say they will not stop their air campaign over Libya until Gaddafi leaves power.

Washington has taken a backseat role in the air war since turning over command to NATO at the end of March but is under pressure to do more. Last week it sent Predator drone aircraft, which fired for the first time on Saturday.

MISRATA BOMBARDED

Government troops bombarded the western rebel bastion of Misrata again on Sunday, two days after announcing their withdrawal following a two month siege.

An engineer who works for a dissident radio station in Misrata told Al Arabiya television that at least 30 people had been killed and 60 wounded by the shelling in the coastal city.

The number of dead could not be independently verified.

“There is very intense and random shelling on residential areas. Burned bodies are being brought into the hospital,” Ahmed al-Qadi told Al Arabiya.

A doctor in a hospital in Misrata said that among the dead from what he called heavy artillery and mortar shelling was a 10-year-old boy killed while he was sleeping at home.

A government spokesman said the army was still carrying out its plan to withdraw from the city, but had fired back when retreating troops were attacked.

“As our army was withdrawing from Misrata it came under attack by the rebels. The army fought back but continued its withdrawal from the city,” Mussa Ibrahim told reporters.

The government says its army is withdrawing and sending in armed tribesmen instead. Rebels say the announcement may be part of a ruse to mask troop movements or stir violence between rebels and locals in nearby towns.

Rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil told a news conference in Kuwait that the Gulf state had agreed to give 50 million Kuwaiti dinars ($177 million) to his rebel council to help pay workers in the eastern part of the country under its control.

“This amount will help us a lot in paying the salaries of employees who did not receive their little salaries for two months,” he said. “We are capable of only covering 40 percent of this amount. We are in need of urgent aid.”

The rebels have been seeking international recognition as well as material support from the west and the Arab world.

Hampered by their lack of firepower, equipment and training, they have been unable to advance from eastern Libya but are fighting back and forth with Gaddafi’s troops on the coast road between the towns of Ajdabiyah and Brega.

Abdel Jalil also said the rebels had received weapons from “friends and allies,” but did not name them.

At least three people were killed in the mountain town of Zintan, around 160 km (100 miles) southwest of Tripoli, by fire from Gaddafi’s tanks and rockets, residents said.

(Additional reporting by Guy Desmond and Maher Nazeh in Tripoli, Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; writing by Peter Graff and Myra MacDonald; editing by Tim Pearce)

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110423/wl_nm/us_libya

By Michael Georgy Michael Georgy 33 mins ago

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – Libyan troops captured by rebels in Misrata said on Saturday the army had been ordered to retreat from the western port, and a rebel spokesman said soldiers had booby trapped bodies and buildings as they fled.

The last large city held by rebels in western Libya, Misrata had been under a brutal government siege for nearly two months and hundreds of civilians have died in the fighting.

“We have been told to withdraw. We were told to withdraw yesterday,” one army soldier, Khaled Dorman, told Reuters.

Lying in the back of a pickup truck, he was among 12 wounded soldiers brought to a hospital for treatment in Misrata, which is about 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli. Blasts and machine gun fire were heard in the distance.

Another serviceman, asked by a Reuters correspondent if the government had lost control over Misrata, said “yes.”

Rebel spokesman Gemal Salem later told Reuters by telephone from Misrata that Muammar Gaddafi’s forces had left the city but remained outside and would be in a position to bombard it.

“Misrata is free, the rebels have won. Of Gaddafi’s forces, some are killed and others are running away,” he said.

Salem said the rebels in Misrata would now help those elsewhere in western Libya against Gaddafi’s forces, who cracked down on the west early on in the uprising against the Libyan leader’s 41-year-old rule after the east fell to the rebels.

The Libyan government acknowledged late on Friday the siege had been broken when rebels seized the port and air strikes had taken their toll. “The tactic of the Libyan army is to have a surgical solution, but it doesn’t work, with the air strikes it doesn’t work,” Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said.

“The situation in Misrata will be eased, will be dealt with by the tribes around Misrata and the rest of Misrata’s people and not by the Libyan army,” he told reporters in Tripoli.

Another rebel spokesman in Misrata, Abdelsalam, said pro-Gaddafi tribes were in a minority in the area:

“There are two small pro-Gaddafi settlements outside Misrata. They make less than one percent of the population of Misrata and the surrounding area.”

“Those people know that when Gaddafi’s regime falls, they will fall with it,” he added, predicting the government would boost their strength by paying mercenaries to pose as tribesmen.

Salem said rebels were now combing Misrata and clearing the streets. Before leaving, he said, Gaddafi’s forces had booby-trapped bodies, houses and cars.

“One man was opening his fridge when he went to his house after the Gaddafi forces left it this morning and it blew up in his face. Bodies the same. When the rebels are trying to lift a body it blows up,” he said.

“We have had three people killed because of that and 15 wounded.”

WESTERN PRESSURE

Western countries, which began U.N.-mandated air strikes last month to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces, have vowed not to stop bombing Libya until he leaves power.

Their air war has so far failed to tip the balance and the top U.S. military officer said on Friday it was approaching a stalemate.

Earlier, NATO bombs struck what appeared to be a bunker near his Bab al-Aziziyah compound in central Tripoli.

Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said three people were killed by the “very powerful explosion” in a car park.

Reuters reporters said the area was surrounded by a wall and guarded by watchtowers and soldiers. They saw two large holes in the ground where the bombs had torn through soil and reinforced concrete, to pierce what appeared to be an underground bunker.

Smoke was rising from one of the craters and ammunition crates lay nearby. Ibrahim said the area was disused and the ammunition boxes were empty.

On Friday, rebels in Misrata seized control of a downtown office building that had been a base for Gaddafi’s snipers and other troops after a furious two-week battle. On Saturday, captured soldiers said rebels had attacked as they retreated.

“The rebels attacked us while we were withdrawing from Misrata near a bridge this morning,” said Ayad Muhammad, a young soldier. As he spoke, other uniformed soldiers in the hospital moaned in pain, some saying “My god, my god.”

On Friday, U.S. Senator John McCain became the highest-profile Western politician to visit Benghazi, where rebels who control eastern Libya have set up a government.

He expressed impatience with Washington’s cautious use of military power and said the United States should deploy ground attack aircraft and recognize the rebel government.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military’s joint chiefs of staff, told U.S. troops in Baghdad that Western-led air strikes had degraded between 30 and 40 percent of Gaddafi’s ground forces. Referring to the conflict, he said: “It’s certainly moving toward a stalemate.

McCain said Washington should recognize the rebels’ Transitional National Council as the official government of Libya, a step already taken by France.

“They have earned this right and Gaddafi has forfeited it by waging war on his own people,” he said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked about McCain’s appeal, replied: “We think it’s for the people of Libya to decide who the head of their country is, not for the United States to do that.”

Sources close to French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he planned to visit Benghazi, probably in the first two weeks of May, and that he wanted British Prime Minister David Cameron to accompany him.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi, Lin Noueihed in Tripoli, Joseph Nasr in Berlin; writing by Peter Graff and Maria Golovnina; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Libya rebels claim control of Tunisian border post

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110421/ap_on_bi_ge/ml_libya

By KARIN LAUB and BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Karin Laub And Ben Hubbard, Associated Press 37 mins ago

 

TRIPOLI, Libya – Libyan rebels said Thursday they had control of a post on the Tunisian border, forcing government soldiers to flee over the frontier and possibly opening a new channel for opposition forces in Moammar Gadhafi’s bastion in western Libya.

In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, meanwhile, relief workers and medical teams awaited the arrival of a passenger ferry carrying about 1,000 people — mostly Libyan civilians and workers from Asia and Africa — out of the besieged city of Misrata, the main rebel holdout in Gadhafi’s territory.

Also aboard the vessel were the bodies of an Oscar-nominated documentary maker from Britain and an American photographer who were killed covering clashes Wednesday. A day earlier, the ferry arrived in Misrata, delivering food and medical supplies to the beleaguered population.

The reported capture of the border crossing followed three days of intense fighting outside the desert town of Nalut, about 140 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tripoli, said a rebel leader, Shaban Abu Sitta. The area was briefly in hands of anti-government forces last month before Libyan troops moved in.

Holding the Dhuheiba border crossing could open important supply routes for anti-Gadhafi forces and give the rebels another foothold in western Libya.

“Rebels are now manning Dhuheiba crossing,” said Abu Sitta, who claimed his fighters destroyed 30 army pickup trucks and captured 10 cars and some weapons.

Tunisia’s official TAP news agency said Libyan rebels had control of the post and at least 13 Libyan military officers, including two commanders, fled across the border. The report, citing a “high-level” Tunisian military official, said the Libyan officers were detained and the border post was closed.

A doctor with Tunisia’s Red Crescent, Dr. Mongi Slim, said the border post was in rebel hands and relief officials fear it could lead to a new wave of refugees.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

“The main worry now is an influx of families fleeing the fighting” in Libya, Slim told The Associated Press. “Before, when the post was under the control of the pro-Gadhafi forces, people had been crossing on little paths. But now it will be much easier.”

On the Ionian Spirit ferry — part of a maritime lifeline to Misrata — Libyan civilians and migrants workers packed the decks, hallways and every other available space. In the ship’s Panorama Bar, evacuees tossed mattresses onto the wooden dance floor. Women slipped behind a curtain to change.

The injured were brought to the lower level of the ship, where an 11-member medical team set up a makeshift intensive care unit.

Jeremy Haslam, a coordinator from the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, said the boat has more than 1,000 evacuees including 239 Libyan civilians and 586 migrants from Niger and others from Africa and Asia.

He said some Libyans tried to flee Misrata aboard a tug boat, but were turned away because the vessel was overcrowded. Some managed to get aboard the ferry.

“We are carrying more than we are supposed to but it’s better than letting these people leave on a tugboat,” said Haslam.

The number of people seeking to flee Misrata has surged as Libyan forces expand their shelling to areas once considered relatively safe havens from attacks.

“Our neighborhood became a war zone so we had to get out,” said Faiza Stayta, who made it aboard the ferry with her husband and two children. “All the firing is random. You hear a rocket and how have no idea if it will come down on your house.”

The vessel carried the bodies of Chris Hondros, a New York-based photographer for Getty Images, and British-born Tim Hetherington, co-director of the 2010 Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo” that was nominated for an Academy Award. The film was co-directed by Sebastian Junger, author of “The Perfect Storm.”

They were killed Wednesday in an attack that also injured two other photographers. A statement from Hetherington’s family said he was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade. The ship also held the body of a Ukrainian doctor killed Wednesday from an artillery blast, said Haslam of the IOM.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, during a visit to the Ukrainian capital Kiev, said the doctor’s wife was severely wounded by the shell.

He expressed his “deepest condolences for that couple. This is not just a couple, this is what Ukrainian people are showing to humanity to the world.”

The group is planning to send another ship to Misrata carrying 500 tons of food and medical supplies. The IOM said it has evacuated more than 3,100 people from Misrata.

___

Hubbard reported from aboard the Ionian Spirit. Associated Press writer Hadeel al-Shalchi contributed to this report from Doha, Qatar.

UN Calls for Cease-Fire in Libya

http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/north/UN-Calls-for-Cease-Fire-in-Libya-120054294.html

The United Nations is calling for an immediate cease-fire in Libya as recent heavy fighting left more than a dozen dead in the western part of the country.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his top humanitarian envoy Valerie Amos expressed deep concern over the magnitude of the conflict as well as its toll on civilians.

Shelling and sniper fire by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi killed 17 people in the western city of Misrata Sunday, while rocket and artillery attacks on the eastern town of Ajdabiya sent rebel fighters and civilians fleeing.

In Misrata, at least 47 people also were wounded in the fighting, during which Gadhafi’s forces fired on a makeshift trauma center.

The city has been under government siege for the last seven weeks, leading to a growing humanitarian crisis.

U.N. and Libyan officials say they reached an an agreement Sunday to allow aid workers safe passage to Misrata. Ban says the world body, which is already providing aid in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, will also set up a humanitarian presence in the capital, Tripoli.

Sunday marked one month since the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing an international air campaign to protect civilians in Libya. In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain will not send occupying ground forces into the North African country.

The NATO alliance has carried out airstrikes against loyalist forces in Libya to enforce the U.N.-authorized “no fly” zone protecting civilians from attack by Gadhafi’s troops.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

In this  picture taken through a bus window during a trip organized by Libyan authorities, an anti-aircraft gun deployed on the outskirts of Tripoli, http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110418/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

By BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Ben Hubbard, Associated Press 1 hr 1 min ago

AJDABIYA, Libya – Holding out under a rain of shelling and sniper fire, Libyan rebels fought Moammar Gadhafi’s forces Sunday in close-quarters battles in the city center of Misrata, the last major rebel foothold in western Libya. Seventeen people were killed, an NGO worker and an opposition activist said.

Government troops have been laying siege to the city on Libya’s Mediterranean coast for weeks, prompting repeated international warnings of a dire humanitarian situation as well as calls for NATO forces to intensify airstrikes on Gadhafi’s forces there.

On Sunday, government troops, who have pushed into the city center from the outskirts in recent days, pounded Misrata with mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, said resident Abdel-Salam, who only provided his given name for fear of retribution.

“Residents have become so accustomed to the sound of mortars and missiles,” he said. “Snipers are still on the roofs of tall buildings shooting at anything that moves in the city center.”

Rebels fought government forces back from an area around a central produce market, regaining a small sliver of territory, said Rida al-Montasser, a local activist reached by Skype.

He said a hospital report that he received from a doctor, showed 17 people, including rebels, were killed and 74 others were injured. He said Gadhafi forces had fired at the city’s hospital Sunday.

A worker for a foreign NGO who visited the hospital Sunday also said 17 bodies were brought in, including that of a girl shot in the head. Other children who had been shot were among the wounded, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety.

Explosions thundered late into the night, al-Montasser said.

The NATO-led air campaign authorized by the U.N. to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone has failed to stop government shelling that, according to residents and witnesses, has hit Misrata’s hospital, the port and residential areas.

The international airstrikes have kept rebels from being defeated on the battlefield by the better trained and equipped government forces, but it still has not been enough to turn the tide in the war. In the eastern half of Libya, rebels in control of most of that part of the country since the uprising began on Feb. 15 have been unable to advance westward toward the capital.

In Paris, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet dismissed statements from a top NATO official that the alliance is short of aircraft. Longuet said instead that NATO’s mission in Libya is hampered by a lack of ground information.

“There is no lack of planes but a lack of identification of mobile objectives,” he said in an interview published Sunday in the daily Le Parisien. “The problem is that we’re missing concrete and verifiable information on identified objectives on the ground.”

Longuet said that “coalition aviation is capable of breaking all logistical provisions of Gadhafi’s troops” to the east. But he acknowledged that in urban combat, “if the aviation avoids tragedies, it still isn’t solving the problem.”

After a meeting of NATO foreign ministers last week in Berlin, the alliance’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said NATO needed “a small number of precision aircraft” to hit Gadhafi’s forces.

“I’m hopeful that nations will step up to the plate,” he said, noting that the two-day Berlin meeting was not held to solicit new pledges of support.

The need for the additional aircraft comes as the situation has changed on the ground, Fogh Rasmussen said.

In eastern Libya on Sunday, government forces shelled the eastern edge of Ajdabiya, the front-line rebel town that has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks.

Loud booms rocked the city throughout the morning, sending a column of cars — some with rebel fighters, others with families — fleeing north through a thick sandstorm to more securely held rebel territory.

Rebel forces fired back with rockets and no government forces entered the city, said rebel fighter Awad Sathi.

The Libyan government has come under sharp international criticism for its assault on Misrata and has been accused by human rights groups of using heavy weapons, including shells, missiles and cluster bombs. Such bombs can cause indiscriminate casualties and have been banned by many countries.

In Tripoli, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim denied the allegations Sunday, telling a small gathering of foreign diplomats: “Don’t believe the lies.”

Maj. Gen. Saleh Ibrahim denied Libyan forces have used cluster bombs, saying the army did not have such weapons and that Libyan soldiers had not been trained in their use.

On Sunday, spokesman Ibrahim said NATO is taking sides in the conflict and renewed claims that fighters from the al-Qaida terror network have joined the rebels.

“NATO is supporting the rebels, allowing them to advance against our army, providing them with air cover,” he said. “It knows about the arming of rebels by the Qatari government and is allowing that. NATO knows about al-Qaida activities in Benghazi, Darna and Beyda. It knows that al-Qaida fighters are advancing westbound.”

___

Associated Press writer Karin Laub in Tripoli, Libya, and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.

More shelling in rebel-held city in western Libyan

Libyan rebel fighters load a truck with ammunition on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya, Saturday, April 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110416/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press 1 hr 42 mins ago

AJDABIYA, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi’s forces poured rocket fire after dawn Saturday into Misrata, the only western city still in rebel hands, and weary residents who have endured more than a month of fighting angrily lashed out at NATO for failing to halt the deadly assault.

Five civilians were killed in a 30-minute barrage of shelling that heavily damaged a factory for dairy products and sent up a thick column of black smoke, a doctor said. A human rights group has accused the Gadhafi regime of using cluster bombs in Misrata — munitions that can cause indiscriminate casualties and have been banned by most countries. The Libyan government and military denied the charge.

In eastern Libya, fierce fighting left seven rebels dead, 27 wounded and four missing as the anti-Gadhafi forces sought to push toward the strategic oil town of Brega, according to Mohammed Idris, a hospital supervisor in the nearby city of Ajdabiya. The battle took place on a road halfway between Ajdabiya and Brega.

Frustration was growing among residents in Misrata, where Gadhafi’s troops have intensified their long siege of the city in recent days. The doctor sharply criticized NATO for failing to break the assault with its month-old campaign of airstrikes.

“We have not seen any protection of civilians,” the doctor said. “NATO airstrikes are not enough, and the proof is that there are civilians killed every day here,” he said.

The theme was echoed in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga told a news conference: “There’s no more room for hesitation or for not standing with determination against what is happening in Misrata and other Libyan cities, because the destruction that Moammar Gadhafi is causing in Libyan cities is great and extensive.”

Rebel fighters in eastern Libya were less critical of NATO. Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said this week that without the airstrikes, even Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the rebels’ main stronghold, would be in “complete danger.”

The Misrata doctor said Gadhafi’s forces are taking shelter in residential areas that civilians had fled, apparently confident that NATO won’t risk attacking them there.

But the troops have so far been unable to fully occupy the city of 300,000 people, he said, so instead they are targeting sites such as the dairy plant or the port to prevent the arrival of humanitarian aid.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared government retribution, said a civilian who was brought to him had been nearly torn in half by a mortar shell and was not expected to live.

NATO officials have said it is difficult to strike Gadhafi’s forces when in an urban area. NATO did say its strikes on Friday destroyed two tanks in the Misrata area.

At a news conference Saturday night in Tripoli, Maj. Gen. Saleh Abdullah Ibrahim denied that the Libyan military is using heavy weapons in Misrata.

When asked whether the NATO airstrikes have had an impact on the Libyan forces, he said he did not know.

“I am a member of the regular armed forces. This type of information is only in the higher ranks of the armed forces,” he said.

Ibrahim confirmed that prisoners had been taken, but would not say how many.

Rebels in Misrata and the New York-based group Human Rights Watch have alleged that Gadhafi’s forces have been using cluster bombs, which pose particular risk to civilians because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. Most of the world’s nations have banned the use of the munitions.

Human Rights Watch said its researchers inspected remnants of the weapons found in a Misrata neighborhood and interviewed witnesses.

Ibrahim said the accusations were “unfounded,” adding that Libya did not have “these kinds of weapons in our depot, and no single Libyan has been trained on this.”

“We are calling for those who show these kinds of weapons to give us the material evidence,” he said.

A boat chartered by Doctors Without Borders and carrying 95 Libyans from Misrata — 65 of them injured — arrived Saturday at the Tunisian port of Zarzis, according to the official TAP news agency. Nine people who were critically or seriously injured were taken to a hospital in the town of Sfax.

A lack of medicine, food and water for the 6,000-10,000 people in migrant workers’ camps around Misrata has led to a “catastrophic” situation that is deteriorating daily, said Dr. Helmi Makkaoui, a Tunisian coordinator for the humanitarian aid group.

Rebels in eastern Libya held their positions for four days around the city of Ajdabiya, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the east, allowing NATO airstrikes to weaken government forces, said Col. Hamid Hassy.

On Friday, the fighters pushed in to reach Brega’s university campus, just outside the town’s oil port, Hassy said. He added that if the rebels retake Brega, they will bring in engineers to repair any damage to the refinery and oil facilities there.

Brega has already changed hands half a dozen times since fighting began in early March. Explosions that appeared to be from new airstrikes could still be heard Saturday in the area.

Despite the strikes, the rebels ran into staunch resistance Saturday. Three of the seven rebels killed were in a car that was struck by either a rocket or artillery shell near a gas station on the road about 24 miles (40 kilometers) from either city, said fighter Ahmed Bakir.

Ambulances streamed to an Ajdabiya hospital, where doctors treated fighters with severe burns or shrapnel wounds. Bloodstained bandages littered the area outside the hospital and workers hosed down a bloody stretcher.

The latest fighting in Brega pushed the rebels back to the town’s outskirts, said Suleiman Mohammed Suleiman, one of the opposition fighters who was shot in the leg while firing a heavy machine gun from the back of a pickup truck outside Brega.

Suleiman said the rebels could see Brega but were not yet inside.

The NATO-led air campaign has kept rebels from being defeated on the battlefield by the better trained and equipped government forces, but it still has not been enough to completely turn the tide. The rebels have been unable to reach Gadhafi’s heavily defended hometown of Sirte, the gateway to the regime-controlled western half of the country.

Previous rebel advances through Brega and its companion oil center of Ras Lanouf, another 60 miles (100 kilometers) farther on, have ultimately foundered as rebels overextended their supply lines and were routed by the heavier firepower and more sophisticated tactics of the government forces.

In contrast those previous charges and retreats in the past six weeks, the rebels appear to be trying a more gradual advance that might actually result in them holding territory.

At a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, the United States and its allies put up a united front on the goals of the alliance’s stalemated military mission in Libya, yet failed to resolve behind-the-scenes squabbling over how to achieve them.

NATO members agreed on paper that Gadhafi had to go to end the crisis, they also made clear that they would not be the ones to oust him.

___

Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Tripoli, Libya; Ben Hubbard in Benghazi, Libya; and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report from Cairo.

Gadhafi forces attack rebel city in western Libya

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110415/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

By KARIN LAUB and BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Karin Laub And Ben Hubbard, Associated Press 2 hrs 15 mins ago

TRIPOLI, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi’s troops launched a powerful assault with tanks and rockets Friday on Misrata, the last major rebel city in western Libya, sending residents fleeing to increasingly crowded safe areas of the city that are still out of the Libyan leader’s reach, witnesses said.

Misrata has become emblematic of the limits of NATO’s air campaign, with the alliance’s top military commander saying he needs more precision attack aircraft to avoid civilian casualties in urban combat. President Barack Obama acknowledged in an interview that the two-month-old civil war has reached a stalemate.

After a weeklong flurry of high-level diplomatic meetings in Europe and the Middle East, rebel leaders complained that the international community is not doing enough to keep Gadhafi’s troops at bay. In the capital of Tripoli, a government official denied Libyan troops are shelling Misrata and said they are only taking defensive actions.

Friday’s fighting in Misrata — even as a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin debated handling of the Libya air campaign — highlight rebel worries that international intervention won’t come fast enough or will be ineffective.

“Time is critical, especially for the people in the west part of the country, especially in Misrata,” said Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the rebels who seized much of eastern Libya from Gadhafi at the start of the war. “Is there something else on the diplomatic ground that they know that we don’t to put more pressure on Gadhafi? The guy is still shelling and killing and it makes no difference to him.”

Rights groups have warned that the situation in Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, is dire after 50 days of siege by Gadhafi’s troops. Hospitals are unable to cope with growing numbers of casualties, including many shrapnel injuries.

Rebels in Misrata alleged that Gadhafi’s forces have been using cluster bombs, which pose particular risk to civilians because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. New York-based Human Rights Watch reported Friday that such munitions were used, saying its researchers inspected remnants and interviewed witnesses.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim denied the use of cluster bombs. “Absolutely not,” he said when asked about the allegations. “We can never do this. We challenge them to prove it.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was unaware of the reports about the use of cluster bombs.

“I have to say I am not surprised at anything that Col. Gadhafi and his forces do, but that is worrying information and it is one of the reasons why the fight in Misrata is so difficult,” Clinton said. “It is at close quarters, it is in amongst urban areas and it poses a lot of challenges to both NATO and to the opposition.”

An international aid group evacuated nearly 1,200 migrant workers from Misrata by boat Friday, saying nearly all were weak, were suffering from dehydration and needed medical attention.

The migrants are among 8,300 foreign laborers stranded near Misrata’s port without shelter or adequate food and water, and the boat will quickly make a second run to rescue more, said the International Organization for Migration.

Germay Haslan, an IOM coordinator, said he heard the sound of shelling and mortar fire while the ship was in port.

In Friday’s assault, a helicopter circled over Misrata for several hours, apparently spotting targets for artillery. Pro-Gadhafi forces bombarded the city with fire from tanks, artillery and rockets, a resident said.

“We’ve been hearing explosions all day,” said the resident, who spoke on condition he be identified only by his given name, Abdel-Salam, for fear of retaliation. Abdel-Salam said the shelling continued until nightfall, portraying the assault as the heaviest since the start of the siege.

Gadhafi’s men are in control of the city center, while the rebels are clinging to positions in the port area. Al-Jazeera satellite TV showed video of two armored vehicles parked in a debris-filled street of Misrata.

Gadhafi loyalists have been firing randomly from their positions in the city, forcing people to leave their homes, said a city resident. Once a building is empty, it is being taken over by government troops, said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. He said government troops have also targeted groups of civilians in the streets, including people standing in line outside a bakery.

He said rebel-held neighborhoods are becoming increasingly crowded. “Now you can find houses with more than 10 families in one house,” he said.

Taki Ali, a 43-year-old Iraqi engineer, had moved three times in Misrata because of the shelling. Ali, his wife and two toddler sons had stayed with a Libyan family near the port for two weeks, before being evacuated by boat Friday.

Eight bodies of civilians were taken to a hospital, Abdel-Salam said, adding that he believes there are additional casualties among the fighters.

“Where is NATO?” asked Abdel-Salam. “Their top mission is to protect civilians, and Misrata is the No. 1 city in Libya that needs protection for the civilians.”

The alliance is struggling to overcome differences, with Britain and France seeking more strikes by other NATO nations, particularly the U.S. Washington says it sees no need to change what it calls a supporting role in the campaign and many other NATO nations have rules preventing them from striking Gadhafi’s forces except in self-defense.

Beyond the political constraints, NATO needs more precision attack aircraft to avoid civilian casualties as Gadhafi’s forces camouflage themselves and hide in populated areas to avoid Western airstrikes, said NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis.

The commander is looking for about eight to 10 additional planes, said U.S. officials on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details.

The international community stepped into the Libyan conflict a month ago, with NATO unleashing airstrikes on Gadhafi-linked military targets. On Friday, airstrikes struck Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte in eastern Libya. Explosions also were heard from what appeared to be NATO strikes against Gadhafi’s forces near the coastal town of Brega.

Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press that a military stalemate exists, but that the U.S. and NATO have averted a “wholesale slaughter” and that Gadhafi is coming under increasing pressure to leave.

Gadhafi is “getting squeezed in all different kinds of ways” and is running out of money and supplies, Obama said. He added that he is confident Gadhafi ultimately will be forced to surrender power and that there is no need for a change in U.S. policy at this time.

There has been mounting international pressure on Gadhafi to step aside after 42 years in power.

Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote in a joint newspaper opinion article that while their mandate under a U.N. Security Council resolution does not include removing Gadhafi by force, “it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gadhafi in power.”

However, Gadhafi has been digging in.

On Friday, Tripoli residents reported unprecedented security measures in the capital to prevent anti-government protests after noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week.

A local journalist said large numbers of Gadhafi loyalists, including women, fanned out across the city, searching cars. Anti-aircraft guns were stationed in several streets, near mosques and main squares, he said.

“This is to scare people,” said the journalist. “All worshippers went straight home at the sight of that.”

On Friday afternoon, sustained bursts of gunfire were heard in the city, mixed with honking car horns and shouts of “God is great,” apparently as part of pro-Gadhafi marches. The government has restricted the movement of foreign journalists in Tripoli, barring them from leaving their hotel without an escort.

The rebels acknowledge that their forces — defected army units and armed civilians — can’t defeat Gadhafi on their own. Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said this week that without NATO airstrikes, even Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the rebels’ main stronghold, would be in “complete danger.”

Rebel fighters bemoan their inferior munitions. As ammunition and rockets become scarce, they scavenge the ruins of Gadhafi’s arsenal for supplies.

“We have rocket launchers that don’t work because they don’t have batteries,” said Awad Sathi, a 36-year-old soldier who defected to the rebels. “Without the batteries, it’s just a pile of junk.”

Clinton said the opposition “needs a lot of assistance on the civilian, organizational side, on the humanitarian side and on the military side.”

“There have been a number of discussions about how best to provide that assistance, who is willing to do what,” she added. “We’re also looking at how the opposition could sell oil from sites that are under their control.”

Highlighting the rebels’ dependence on NATO, a regime force of tanks and armed pickup trucks moved on Ajdabiya this week, some even entering the city before airstrikes halted the advance.

Rebel fighters say only more airstrikes can tip the balance quickly.

“I don’t think Gadhafi’s forces are weakened, but he doesn’t have the freedom to advance,” said Lt. Muftah Omar Hamza, who commands 70 rebels. “Even if they destroy 50 percent of Gadhafi’s forces, the other 50 percent is stronger than our force.”

Western countries insist that the U.N. resolution authorizing intervention would not permit them to send ground troops — which the rebels don’t want anyway.

NATO hopes that, during the military stalemate, economic and political pressure will build on Gadhafi, sparking further uprisings, defections from his regime or even an assassination by a close aide.

___

Hubbard reported Benghazi. Also contributing were Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo, Sebastian Abbot in Ajdabiya, Libya, Matthew Lee in Berlin and Ben Feller in Washington.

Gadhafi defiant despite NATO airstrikes in Tripoli

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110414/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

In this image made from TV , Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Thursday April 14 2011. Libyan TV broadcast footage on Thursday showi

By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press Karin Laub, Associated Press 24 mins ago

TRIPOLI, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi rolled defiantly through the streets of Tripoli, pumping his fists as he poked through the sun roof of an SUV on Thursday — the same day that NATO airstrikes shook the city. The alliance’s foreign ministers, while united in their aim to pressure the Libyan leader to go, argued at a meeting over whether to step up military operations that have so far failed to rout him.

Gadhafi gave no sign that he’s willing to relent, despite two months of civil war and mounting international pressure for him to move aside. Instead, his loyalists pounded rebel positions in the besieged western city of Misrata with dozens of rockets for several hours, killing at least 13 people.

The main target of the assault was Misrata’s port, the only lifeline for rebels who have been trying to defend positions in the city, Libya’s third-largest, against Gadhafi’s forces.

In the capital of Tripoli, several large explosions were heard and a column of black smoke rose from the southeastern part of the city, followed by the sound of anti-aircraft guns, a resident said.

Libyan state television showed Gadhafi — dressed in a black Western blazer, black crew neck T-shirt, sunglasses and a hat — standing through the open sun roof of a sport utility vehicle on a fist-pumping, rapid ride through Tripoli with dozens of supporters chasing behind him. Libyan TV said the trip came on the same day that NATO airstrikes hit military and civilian areas in the capital.

The TV report said there were civilian casualties from the attacks. The report could not be confirmed.

The fighting in Libya began in mid-February when large anti-government protests escalated into a civil war. Rebels hold much of eastern Libya, while Gadhafi controls the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. Three weeks of international airstrikes haven’t routed Gadhafi’s forces.

Gadhafi’s troops unleashed three hours of heavy shelling on the port city of Misrata, which is partly held by rebels. The port is Misrata’s only lifeline, and government forces fired tank shells and dozens of Grad missiles , according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation.

“They want to flatten the area to deploy the troops on foot and invade the city,” said one of the witnesses, a doctor whose first name was Ayman. He added that a ship sent by Doctors Without Borders to evacuate 165 critically injured people to Tunisia had been scheduled to arrive Thursday morning at Misrata’s port, and he believed the government had shelled the port to interfere with the humanitarian aid.

Another doctor in Misrata, who gave his name only as Khaled for fear of retribution, said some of those killed were inside their houses asleep at the time of the shelling. Among the dead were two men aged 75 and 80.

Gadhafi forces have control of a highway on the outskirts of Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chaired a Cairo meeting of regional and international organizations on Libya and set three targets: reaching and implementing a cease-fire, delivering humanitarian aid and starting a dialogue on Libya’s future.

“Shelling your own people is not acceptable,” he said at a meeting at Arab League headquarters, referring to actions by Gadhafi’s forces. “This is a violation of human rights.”

At a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, the United States and its allies put up a united front on the goals of the alliance’s stalemated military mission in Libya but failed to resolve behind-the-scenes squabbling over how to achieve them.

NATO members agreed on paper with President Barack Obama that Gadhafi had to go to end the crisis, they also made clear that they would not be the ones to oust him. Although several NATO members want the alliance to commit more planes to expand the air campaign, the first day of meetings closed without any specific commitments for more aircraft.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed for unity, saying Gadhafi was taunting the alliance by continuing to strike cities held by rebels seeking his overthrow.

“As our mission continues, maintaining our resolve and unity only grows more important,” Clinton said. “Gadhafi is testing our determination.”

The United States is resisting suggestions that it resume a large combat role to break a deadlock between rebels and better-armed forces loyal to Gadhafi.

Clinton and other top diplomats pointedly said their U.N. mandate for an air campaign does not extend to Gadhafi’s exit by force.

The allies again resolved to enforce a U.N. arms embargo, protect civilians acting to push Gadhafi forces out of cities they have entered, and get in humanitarian aid.

But differences over the scope of the military operation persisted, with Britain and France insisting on more action, particularly from sophisticated U.S. surveillance and weapons systems, and U.S officials maintaining that the alliance already has the tools to get the job done.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris “had wanted (NATO) to intensify its strikes, and we received the assurance that that would be the case.”

Clinton did not say if the U.S. would send more ground attack craft, but she said Washington would continue to support the NATO mission until its goals were met.

Rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said the opposition in Benghazi is encouraged by the diplomatic talks but worried that it won’t translate in to concrete action fast enough to prevent more civilian deaths.

“It will be interesting to see if there is any movement on the ground or just a lot of talk and no action,” he said. “Is there something else on the diplomatic ground that they know that we don’t to put more pressure on Gadhafi? The guy is still shelling and killing, and it makes no difference to him.”

He mentioned specifically the shelling of Misrata and said the international community’s actions will largely determine how long the conflict lasts.

“They wrote off Gadhafi’s regime. The question is how fast their plan is going to take care of him. We know arming ourselves will lead to the eventual toppling of the regime. But are we willing to wait two years or three years or a year and a half? How many victims do we have to accept?”

Rebel leaders have said they would only consider a truce if it Gadhafi is removed from power first.

At the Cairo meeting of top diplomats, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Gadhafi “must leave immediately” and that Libyans should be given a chance to choose a new leader.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa told reporters after the meeting that the situation in Libya is “very grave.”

Brief clashes erupted between pro- and anti-Gadhafi demonstrators outside the meeting. The two camps hurled rocks at each other, with at least one protester seen with blooded face after being hit in the head with a stone. The anti-Gadhafi protesters outnumbered the pro-Gadhafi demonstrators, chased them and forced them to flee.

NATO said it had conducted 153 sorties in the last 24 hours, striking 13 bunkers, one tank and one armored personnel carrier in the Tripoli area and three multiple rocket launchers in the Brega area.

Journalists were taken to Tripoli’s Fateh University where they were shown damage they were told was the result of an airstrike earlier in the day. The blast shattered windows of several buildings, including two student cafeterias, and glass shards were scattered across the floor. Tiles of false ceilings had been knocked out in several lecture halls.

Government minders traveling with the journalists said the strike had hit a military target nearby and white smoke was seen rising from a group of trees several hundred yards from the campus. The minders would not elaborate or allow anyone to approach the targeted area. However, one journalist who had snatched a glimpse from a rooftop said she had seen an anti-aircraft battery at the site. Photographs taken later showed a large military truck in the area.

A Tripoli resident said many people were fasting in preparation for mass anti-Gadhafi protests Friday, the 25th anniversary of the 1986 U.S. raid on Tripoli.

Life in Libya “is becoming harsh,” with prices skyrocketing, gasoline scarce and long lines in front of bakeries, said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Al-Sadek al-Ghariani, a top Muslim cleric in Libya, said in a video posted on Facebook that it was a religious duty to join Friday’s protests. In February, he issued two fatwas calling for anti-Gadhafi protests and then went into hiding. Gadhafi forces apparently are trying to find him.

At the western edge of Ajdabiya, the main gateway town into the opposition-held east, two wounded rebel fighters were brought through, and the rebel forces retaliated by firing rockets in the direction of Brega.

In western Libya, rebels attacked a small military base about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Nalut and chased away 40 soldiers who had been trying to stop aid from Tunisia and harassing people trying to flee into that country. In apparent retaliation, Libyan government forces shelled the town of Tikut.

Rebel chief of Staff Abdel-Fatah Younes said the opposition fighters have received new anti-tank weapons from Qatar and that experts from that country are training the forces to use them.

Also Thursday, Libyan TV reported Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, mediated the release of Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera correspondent Amar al-Hamdan, who was en route to the Libya-Tunisian border.

___

Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo, Sebastian Abbot in Ajdabiya, Libya; Hadeel al-Shalchi in Tunis, Tunisia; and Geir Moulson and Matthew Lee in Berlin contributed reporting.

My Years As Gaddafi’s Nurse

http://news.yahoo.com/s/dailybeast/20110411/ts_dailybeast/13423_oksanabalinskayaonbeinglibyasmuammargaddafisnurse

Oksana Balinskaya Oksana Balinskaya Mon Apr 11, 1:02 am ET

NEW YORK – I checked the dictator’s heart and lived in luxury. But when revolution came, I realized the cost. In this week’s Newsweek, Oksana Balinskaya talks about what it was like being the nurse for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

I was just 21 when I went to work for Muammar Gaddafi. Like the other young women he hired as nurses, I had grown up in Ukraine. I didn’t speak a word of Arabic, didn’t even know the difference between Lebanon and Libya. But “Papik,” as we nicknamed him—it means “little father” in Russian—was always more than generous to us. I had everything I could dream of: a furnished two-bedroom apartment, a driver who appeared whenever I called. But my apartment was bugged, and my personal life was watched closely.

Oksana Balinskaya worked as Gaddafi’s Nurse. (Photo: Joseph Sywenkyj for Newsweek)

For the first three months I wasn’t allowed to go to the palace. I think Papik was afraid that his wife, Safia, would get jealous. But soon I began to attend to him regularly. The job of the nurses was to see that our employer stayed in great shape-in fact, he had the heart rate and blood pressure of a much younger man. We insisted that he wear gloves on visits to Chad and Mali to protect him against tropical diseases. We made sure that he took his daily walks around the paths of his residence, got his vaccinations, and had his blood pressure checked on time.

The Ukrainian press called us Gaddafi’s harem. That’s nonsense. None of us nurses was ever his lover; the only time we ever touched him was to take his blood pressure. The truth is that Papik was much more discreet than his friend, the womanizer Silvio Berlusconi. Gaddafi chose to hire only attractive Ukrainian women, most probably for our looks. He just liked to be surrounded by beautiful things and people. He had first picked me from a line of candidates after shaking my hand and looking me in the eye. Later I learned he made all his decisions about people at the first handshake. He is a great psychologist.

Papik had some odd habits. He liked to listen to Arab music on an old cassette player, and he would change his clothes several times a day. He was so obsessive about his outfits that he reminded me of a rock star from the 1980s. Sometimes when his guests were already waiting for him, he would go back to his room and change his clothes again, perhaps into his favorite white suit. When we drove around poor African countries he would fling money and candy out the widow of his armored limousine to children who ran after our motorcade; he didn’t want them close for fear of catching diseases from them. He never slept in a tent, though! That’s just a myth. He only used the tent for official meetings.

 We traveled in great style. I accompanied Papik to the United States, Italy, Portugal, and Venezuela, and whenever he was in a good mood, he asked us if we had everything we needed. We would get bonuses to go shopping. And -every year Papik gave all his staff gold watches with his picture on them.

We traveled in great style. I accompanied Papik to the United States, Italy, Portugal, and Venezuela, and whenever he was in a good mood, he asked us if we had everything we needed. We would get bonuses to go shopping. And -every year Papik gave all his staff gold watches with his picture on them. Just showing that watch in Libya would open any door, solve any problem that we had.

I got the impression that at least half the population of Libya disliked Papik. The local medical staff was jealous of us because we made three times more than they did—over $3,000 a month. It was obvious that Papik made all the decisions in his country. He is like Stalin; he has all the power and all the luxury, all for himself. When I first saw television pictures of the Egyptian revolution I thought, nobody would ever dare to rise against our Papik. But there was a chain reaction after Tunisia and Egypt. If Papik had passed his throne to his son Saif when he still had a chance, I believe that everything would have been all right. People would not be dying right now.

I got out of Tripoli at the beginning of February, just in time. Two of my friends stayed behind, and now they can’t leave. I had a very personal reason for wanting to get out: I was four months pregnant, and I was beginning to show. I feared that Papik would not approve of my Serbian boyfriend.

Papik will probably never forgive me my betrayal. But I realize I did the right thing to flee Libya. My friends all told me I should think of my future baby and run. Now Papik’s closest partners are also running from him. And he is forcing his children and our two remaining Ukrainian colleagues to stay and die by his side.

As told to NEWSWEEK’s Anna Nemtsova in Mogilnoye, Ukraine.

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