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Gaddafi's troops pound Misrata amid diplomatic frictions

April 14, 2011 21:38 IST

Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi on Thursday pounded the besieged western town of Misurata amid growing differences among the international community over the military campaign in Libya. Ahead of a key North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting in Berlin, Britain and France mounted pressure on the alliance to help defeat the Libyan regime.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed on a heightened military pressure against 68-year-old Gaddafi during a working dinner in Paris last night. "All means must be made available" in the fight against Gaddafi, a source in the French presidency was quoted as saying by Al-Jazeera on Thursday.

However, only six out of NATO's 28 members are taking part in the air strikes, with key members such as Spain and Italy reluctant to be involved in the bombings on Gaddafi's forces. Even as Denmark wanted more nations to be involved in the bombing missions, Spain wants to limit its role to tightening the arms embargo and the 'no-fly' zone in Libya.

In the Chinese city of Sanya, India and four other emerging nations forming the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa grouping collectively voiced their opposition to the use of force in Libya and pitched for a central role for the United Nations and regional organisations in resolving the matter.

"We are of the view that all the parties should resolve their differences through peaceful means and dialogue in which the UN and regional organisations should as appropriate play their role," said a statement issued after the summit of their leaders. Libyan rebels said heavy fighting was continuing in Misrata, 214 kilometres east of Tripoli, where Gaddafi's forces have been trying to dislodge them with heavy bombardments and street attacks for weeks, the BBC said.

Rebels were quoted as saying in the media that at least 13 people were killed and some 50 hurt in attacks by pro-Gaddafi troops on Libya's third largest city and the lone rebel bastion in western Libya. NATO said it had attacked munitions bunkers 13km from the Libyan capital, while Libyan television reported other air strikes in the Libyan cities of al-Aziziya, Sirte, and Misrata.

Libya's official JANA news agency also reported air strikes on Wednesday in Misrata, the country's third-largest city; Sirte, a Gaddafi stronghold; and al-Aziziya, about 35 km south of Tripoli. JANA claimed the strike in Misrata was in an area "populated with residents."

Meanwhile, the Libyan government charged Qatar for providing rebels in the east with French-made Milan anti-tank missiles. "Qatar sent French Milan missiles to the rebels in Benghazi," which is the stronghold of the opposition, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said in the capital Tripoli.

He said elements of the Lebanese Islamist Hezbollah were fighting alongside the rebels, according to Al Jazeera. He accused Qatar of dispatching military trainers for the rebels in the eastern part of the country.

In Berlin, where NATO foreign ministers are meeting to find a solution to end the fighting in Libya and halt the growing political impasse, the US played down any rift after France and Britain pressed allies to do more to protect the civilians. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Berlin to attend the NATO meeting, said, "We are also sharing the same goal which is to see the end of the Gaddafi regime in Libya. And we are contributing in many ways in order to see that goal realised".

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, underlined the interest of the Libyans civilians. The alliance was "acting with care and precision to maximise the effects of our actions, while minimising the danger to citizens," he said in his opening address at the meeting.

Ahead of key meeting, British Premier David Cameron said he would "leave no stone unturned, militarily, diplomatically, politically, to enforce the UN resolution, to put real pressure on Gaddafi and to stop the appalling murder of civilians that he is still carrying out ... in Misurata and elsewhere in Libya". On Wednesday in Doha, the 'Libya contact group' pledged financial support for rebels.

Even as Italy and Qatar wanted the international community to consider arming Libyan rebels, Belgium opposed the idea on Wednesday, saying the UN resolution speaks about protecting civilians, not arming them. UK's foreign secretary William Hague said his country had been providing non-lethal equipment to the rebels, and would continue to do so.

The Libya opposition has underlined that arms supply does not require consensus. "If needed, we will request (arms) from countries on a bilateral basis," Mahmud Shammam, a spokesman for the rebels, was quoted as saying by AL Jazeera. In Cairo, the Arab League hosted an international meet on Libya, co-chaired by UN chief Ban Ki-moon who sought a "political" solution and an immediate ceasefire in Libya.

"We call for a political process so that the Libyan people can reach their aspirations," Ban said. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who also attended the conference, asked Gaddafi to quit after 41 years in power. The meeting, co-chaired by the UN Secretary General and Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, was also attended by the Organisation of Islamic Conference head Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping.

The aim of the meeting was to examine "the solutions and political issues of the Libyan crisis and to coordinate the efforts of these various organisations," Egypt's state-run MENA news agency quoted Arab League deputy secretary general Ahmed Bin Halli as saying.

The UN chief has warned that up to 3.6 million people in Libya may eventually require humanitarian aid, more than half of the country's population. Clinton condemned the continued brutal attacks on the Libyan people by the forces loyal to Gaddafi in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

"Regime militias and mercenaries have continued their attacks on civilians in Misrata, indiscriminately firing mortar and artillery rounds into residential areas of the city," Clinton said in a statement as she reached Berlin for the key NATO meeting.

The regime has reportedly destroyed crucial food supply warehouses and cut off water and power to the city, laying siege to the Libyan people in an apparent attempt to starve them into submission, she said. The Pentagon on Wednesday said that United States fighter jets were still carrying out bombing raids on Libya's air defences, despite earlier statements that the US had halted major operations.
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