Monday, May 2, 2011

Angry mobs force UN out of Tripoli

THE UN pulled its staff out of Tripoli after angry mobs attacked and torched British and Italian embassies and a UN office in the Libyan capital. Britain, whose embassy buildings were burned, ordered the expulsion of Libya's ambassador.

The attacks, which resulted in no deaths or injuries, were in response to a NATO strike reported by the regime to have killed Muammar Gaddafi's youngest son and three grandchildren.

NATO said yesterday it had no evidence that any member of the Gaddafi family, or any civilians, had been killed in the strike.

"We have seen no evidence of civilian casualties," a NATO official said. "We do not target individuals and have no real way of knowing who is inside."

NATO said the so-called "residence" hit in the strike was a command and control centre with a bunker underneath.

Pentagon officials suggested the regime had claimed the deaths of civilians and children to divide an already conflicted international community.

Monsignor Giovanni Martinelli, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Tripoli, said he had been shown the bodies and told one was that of 29-year-old Saif al-Arab Gaddafi.

The bishop said the corpse was too badly disfigured to make a positive identification.

In Benghazi, the rebel capital, sceptical residents noted that Gaddafi had previously said family members had died at the world community's hands. After the US attacked the regime's military headquarters in 1986, Gaddafi said his adopted daughter had been killed. Even now, Libyans aren't certain that's true.

The latest bombing did not slow attacks by Gaddafi's forces on rebel strongholds in the western part of Libya, which has remained largely under the regime's control.

The rebel port of Misratah, besieged by Gaddafi's troops for two months, was heavily shelled on Sunday and at least 12 people were killed, a medic said.

Shells struck close to a Maltese ship as it unloaded food and medical supplies, witnesses reported.

Last week, government forces tried to mine Misratah's harbour to close the city's only link to the outside, NATO officials said.

While repeatedly calling for a ceasefire, most recently on Saturday, Gaddafi has relentlessly attacked Misratah, a city of 300,000 where hundreds have been killed since the rebellion erupted in mid-February.

The rebels, who control most of eastern Libya, have been unable to gain an advantage on the battlefield despite weeks of NATO airstrikes. Alliance officials and allied leaders emphatically denied they were hunting Gaddafi to break the stalemate between the better trained government forces and the lightly armed rebels.

US and NATO officials have insisted that killing the Libyan leader is not an aim of their month-old air campaign.

The alliance said yesterday it had carried out a "precision strike" against "a known command and control building".

"We do not target individuals," insisted Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, who commands NATO's operation in Libya. However, US, British and French leaders have all said Gaddafi must go - prompting warnings by UN Security Council members Russia, China and Brazil against attempts to change the regime.

In strong language, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused NATO of a "disproportionate use of force" and cast doubt on NATO's assertion that it was not targeting Gaddafi or members of his family.

NATO warplanes have shifted their focus in the past two weeks from support for rebels on the frontlines to attacking the regime's communications centres. The weekend strike reduced to rubble most of the Gaddafi family compound, which takes up an entire block in the residential Garghour neighbourhood.

Libyan television announced that the strike had killed Saif al-Arab, two-year-old Carthage, the daughter of Gaddafi's son Hannibal; six-month-old Mastura, daughter of Gaddafi's daughter Aisha; and 15-month-old Saif Mohammed, son of Gaddafi's son Mohammed.

Gerard Le Clouerec, a French orthopedic surgeon who runs a private clinic in Tripoli, inspected the bodies of an adult and two infants at Tripoli's Green Hospital. He told reporters the adult's face was intact and that "in relation to a photo we have seen most probably was the son of Gaddafi", but the two children had been badly disfigured.

Outside the compound, a dead deer and a twisted bathtub lay on the debris-strewn grass. A kitchen clock, knocked from the wall, had stopped at 8.08 and 45 seconds, the time of the explosion. Cooking pots with food, including stuffed peppers, noodles and a stew, had been left on the stove, covered with aluminium foil.

In one of the living rooms, a pile of video games, including FIFA 10, were scattered on a sofa.


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