Renewed NATO air strikes rock Tripoli

Military alliance pounds Libyan capital a day after US secretary of state says Gaddafi's days are "numbered".

    Friday's air strikes came days after heavy bombardment flattened major buildings in Gaddafi's compound [EPA]

    NATO war planes are continuing to bombard the Libyan capital Tripoli, with large explosions echoing over the city.

    Air strikes on Friday sent plumes of smoke over Tripoli, and the direction of the strikes suggested that either the compound of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's embattled leader, or nearby military barracks were shelled.

    After the strikes, pro-Gaddafi supporters fired assault rifles into the air and beeped their car horns in defiance.

    The strikes followed a total of 14 air attacks that were carried out on Thursday, considerably fewer than the heavy bombardment on Tuesday that flattened major buildings in Gaddafi's compound in the centre of the city.

    Libyan state TV reported that NATO warplanes also attacked targets in the Ain Zara neighbourhood in the southeast of Tripoli.

    The continued air raids came as Gaddafi forces renewed their shelling near the rebel-held western city of Misurata, killing at least 17 rebel fighters on Friday and wounding 40 others.

    Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from Al Dafniya near Misurata, said it has been "a bloody day in terms of casualties".

    "For nine intensive hours bombardments were non-stop. We were at a former garage workshop that has been turned into a mash unit, and body after body after casualty was being brought in there. It was complete mayhem.

    "They can do the absolute basic surgery there to help them out and hopefully they can keep them alive long enough to bring them to Misurata for more intensive treatment."

    In Brussels, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, said the shelling near Misurata underscored the continued need to protect civilians.

    "It is an example that the Gaddafi regime still constitutes a threat to the civilian population,'' he said. "We will stay committed as long as necessary."

    'Gaddafi's days numbered'

    The airs raids also came as Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, declared on Thursday that Gaddafi's days as leader of Libya were numbered.

    "Gaddafi's days are numbered. We are working with our international partners through the UN to plan for the inevitable: a post-Gaddafi Libya," Clinton said at the International Contact Group [ICG] meeting on Libya in Abu Dhabi.

    Clinton also said talks were under way with people close to the Libyan leader and that there was "the potential" for a transition of power in Libya.

    "There have been numerous and continuing discussions by people close to Gaddafi and we are aware that those discussions include, among other matters, the potential for a transition," she said.

    She gave no further details on the talks, other than to say "there is not any clear way forward yet".

    Financial pledge

    As the battle for control of Libya raged, donors at the ICG meeting pledged more than $1.3bn to help support the National Transitional Council (NTC), the main body representing the Libyan rebels fighting against Gaddafi.

    Italy and France offered a combined $1.02bn while Kuwait and Qatar promised a combined $280m to a fund set up to provide transparent assistance to the opposition.

    Turkey has established a $100m fund to support the Libyan opposition government based in Benghazi, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said.

    Clinton said "we are ready for the establishment of financial mechanism for the money to flow to the National Transitional Council".

    The US secretary of state said while Washington would boost its humanitarian aid to all Libyans by $26.5m, it was not offering any direct aid to the NTC. This was despite Clinton acknowledging that the council "faces a serious budget shortfall'' and "needs our immediate financial assistance".

    A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "We understand the NTC's frustration but again the
    international community isn't going to let the NTC go under."

    Washington said on Wednesday that the first shipment of Libyan oil sold by the council had been delivered to a US refinery and Clinton encouraged other nations to make similar purchases to help the Libyan people.

    The Benghazi-based rebel leadership has said it hopes to restart production of up to 100,000 barrels a day soon, without specifying a timeframe.

    Shortage of funds

    Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, who defected from Gaddafi's government while he was the Libyan ambassador to the UN, said the rebels needed $3bn to cover salaries and food costs for the next four months.

    The total amount pledged at the ICG summit, while significant, fell way short of the fund needed.

    The rebels say that Gaddafi's assets frozen abroad, which are reportedly worth $160bn, should be made available to them.

    Ali Tarhouni, the opposition finance minister, urged nations to allow the council to use the funds as collateral for loans.

    "Our people are dying," he said.

    "It's been almost four months now and nothing has materialised so far. Our message to our friends is that I hope that they walk the walk."

    The number of countries recognising the rebel council is growing by each day. A day after Spain recognised the NTC, Australia said the rebel government was legitimate.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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