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'Gaddafi arrest warrant to be issued soon'
International Criminal Court warrant expected by end of month, making exile impossible, Italian foreign minister says.
Last Modified: 12 May 2011 19:22

The International Criminal Court will likely issue an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi by the end of the month, Italy's foreign minister said.

The warrant would be a "key moment" in the battle against Gaddafi and would make it impossible for him to escape into exile, foreign minister Franco Frattini said on Thursday.

"From that moment on, an exit from power or from the country will no longer be imaginable," he said.

A spokeswoman for the office of ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told Al Jazeera that it was surprised by Frattini's statement. Ocampo submitted a report to ICC judges on May 4 requesting an arrest warrant but is waiting for the court to either approve the warrant or request more information, the spokeswoman said.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously on February 26 to ask the ICC to investigate human rights crimes in the uprising against Gaddafi, which began earlier that month.

Opposition support rallies abroad

The possibility of an impending arrest warrant came as the Libyan opposition's support appeared to grow in the United States and United Kingdom, where high-ranking rebel representatives were making visits on Thursday.

Mahmoud Jibril, the chief of the opposition National Transitional Council's "crisis team," was leading a delegation to Washington, DC and will visit the White House on Friday. Jibril will meet with high-ranking officials in US president Barack Obama's administration as well as members of Congress, but apparently not Obama himself.

Meanwhile, NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil met with UK prime minister David Cameron, who called the opposition the "legitimate political interlocutor in Libya and Britain's primary partner there". 

James Steinberg, the US deputy secretary of state, gave reporters an upbeat assessment of the opposition's campaign against Gaddafi during remarks in Washington. He said the US wanted to emphasise that the rebels should not feel that other countries are leaving them isolated, and noted that America had pledged $53 million worth of aid to the opposition so far.

Steinberg said sources in Libya have told the US government that Gaddafi's government is no longer able to pay Tripoli residents to attend pro-government rallies - a sign of weakening power, said Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington. 

Gaddafi sneaks into hotel

On Wednesday, Gaddafi appeared on state television for the first time in almost two weeks, a brief show of authority that was followed shortly by early morning NATO air strikes that targeted his personal command and control compound in the Bab al-Aziziya area.

Gaddafi was shown meeting with tribal leaders, his first appearance since April 30, the day air strikes allegedly killed his youngest son, Saif al-Arab, and three grandchildren.

A Libyan official told reporters the video was shot at around 7:30pm on Wednesday at the Rixos hotel, where the majority of foreign journalists in Tripoli are staying.

None in the media there reported seeing Gaddafi enter the hotel, though they saw others who appeared in the video and said some rooms apparently had been sealed off for the meeting.

The video showed an apparently unharmed Gaddafi, who was wearing sunglasses and dressed in a black robe and hat with a brown sash, greeting the leaders and then holding talks, with them seated in a half circle around him.

To confirm the authenticity of the screening, the camera zoomed in on the date shown on a television screen close to Gaddafi; Wednesday, May 11.

Ajdabiya attacked

At least three rockets hit the strategic opposition-held crossroads town of Ajdabiya in eastern Libya on Thursday, but no casualties were reported, residents and a medic told the AFP news agency.

The first hit a house in an eastern neighbourhood of the town shortly before 6:00am, residents said.

"The rocket came through the roof of the kitchen. We were sleeping but were not injured," said Mohamed Awad, pointing to the debris littering the ground.

A second rocket struck near a rubbish heap and a third partly destroyed two cars in the same neighbourhood. It was not possible to determine where the rockets had been fired from.

Doctor Ahmed Al-Ignashi, head of Ajdabiya ambulance services, confirmed the rocket attacks and said they caused no casualties.

Ajdabiya, 160km south of the opposition bastion of Benghazi, has been under rebel control for several weeks, but fighting continues with government forces who hold the oil town of Brega, 80km to the west.

The rocket attack came hours after opposition fighters said they had captured Misurata city's airport, pushing Gaddafi's forces ever further from the city's western outskirts. Opposition sources told Al Jazeera the military airbase, which is part of the same facility was also taken - though other reports described pockets of ongoing fighting in the area.

In Tripoli, a government spokesman denied the opposition claims of success: "This is nonsense,'' Moussa Ibrahim said. "We control the airport and we also control the sea port.''

Misurata is Libya's third-largest city and the most significant opposition stronghold in the west of the country, where the uprising against Gaddafi has been weaker than in the east.

NATO took command of operations over Libya on March 31 and has since then, carried out more than 2,400 air strikes as part of the effort to assist the rebels and pressure Gaddafi to end his 42-year authoritarian rule.

Massive protests in February - inspired by revolts that toppled long-time autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt - escalated into war when Gaddafi's troops fired on demonstrators and protesters seized several towns.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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