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Battle Over Ajdabiya and Libyan Oil-Export Area Continues

April 9, 2011

Libyan military surges on key rebel-held outpost

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT Associated Press

Apr 9,  2011, 11:45 AM EDT

AJDABIYA, Libya (AP) --

 Libyan government troops shelled rebels' main front-line outpost and advanced in guerrilla-style units Saturday, killing at least three opposition fighters in what appeared to be their most serious push into the heart of rebel territory since international airstrikes began.

NATO responded to the advance on the eastern city of Ajdabiya with an airstrike that kicked up a huge mushroom cloud. Government troops' intense shelling dropped off after that, but soldiers moved into the town in civilian cars and trucks in an apparent effort to foil NATO pilots.

Recapturing Ajdabiya would give the Libyan military a key staging ground to attack the rebels' de facto capital, Benghazi, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) farther east along the coastal highway. Moammar Gadhafi's forces were approaching Benghazi when they were driven back by the international air campaign launched last month to protect civilians and ground Gadhafi's aircraft.

The push into Ajdabiya was launched even as international envoys opened fresh initiatives for a peace deal. The African Union said it planned to send a team to Libya on Sunday to begin meetings with the government and rebel leaders.

In the capital Tripoli, meanwhile, Gadhafi made his first public appearance in weeks with a visit to a school. Children went into a frenzy to welcome him, jumping on desks and giving fist-pumping chants: "The people want Moammar the leader!"

Gadhafi - wearing large black sunglasses and a brown turban and robe - made no public comments, according to the account on state TV. Gadhafi has remained mostly in hiding since the airstrikes began, preferring to communicate by telephone to government-run television.

The rebels have maintained control of much of the eastern half of Libya since early in the uprising, while Gadhafi has clung to much of the west. Gadhafi has been putting out feelers for a cease-fire but he refuses to step down as rebels demand.

A NATO official in Naples, Italy - the headquarters for the Libyan mission - said the airstrike near Ajdabiya was launched to try to halt the shelling of the city, which had about 150,000 residents before many fled for safer areas. The official spoke on condition of anonymity under standing regulations.

The NATO-led airstrikes, authorized by a U.N. resolution, have neutralized Gadhafi's air force and pummeled his ground forces, but the opposition remains outnumbered and outgunned. The alliance has been defending itself against rebel complaints that its attacks are too slow and imprecise.

In London, the British military said its warplanes hit seven tanks around Ajdabiya and the rebel-held city of Misrata in western Libya on Friday as part of the NATO-led mission.

A rebel fighter, Salah Ali, said Gadhafi's forces were "spreading out inside Ajdabiya" with weapons including heavy machine guns and grenade launchers.

Rebels returned fire with rockets and machine guns after retreating to the outskirts. Some rebel reinforcements arrived at sunset.

The supervisor at Ajdabiya hospital, Mohammed Idris, said at least five rebels were killed and six people were injured, including a civilian.

The pro-Gadhafi offensive marked a quick turn of fortunes for the rebels.

Just hours earlier, they had pushed deeper toward Brega, a town west of Ajdabiya that has been a key prize in the back-and-forth battles with government forces. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's Bright Star University, outside government-controlled oil facilities.

In western Libya, the Red Cross said a relief ship reached the only rebel-held city, Misrata, which was the scene of heavy battles Friday. A Turkish ship also docked in Misrata to bring home Egyptians stranded in Libya's third-largest city, said Egypt's deputy foreign minister, Mohammed Abdel-Hakam. A second Turkish ship was expected Sunday.


Associated Press writer Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.

Political efforts intensify over Libya crisis

TRIPOLI/BEIJING, April 9, 2011 (Xinhua) --

 International efforts are gaining momentum to seek a political solution to the ongoing crisis in violence-torn Libya.

A group of African leaders are expected to visit Libya over the weekend on behalf of the African Union (AU) to mediate an immediate ceasefire between Libya's government troops and the rebel forces, the South African foreign ministry said Friday.

During their stay in the violence-torn country, South African President Jacob Zuma and leaders of several other African countries will meet with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli and with rebel leaders in the eastern city of Benghazi, according to the ministry.

"Key on the agenda of both meetings will be the immediate implementation of a ceasefire from both sides and the opening of a political dialogue between the two parties," the ministry said.

The high-level AU envoys will first meet in Mauritania on Saturday before they travel to Libya, it said, adding that NATO, which is implementing a UN-endorsed no-fly zone over Libya, has given the mediators the green light.

The AU panel originally planned to visit Libya last month, but had to reschedule the trip after failing to obtain permission from a multinational coalition that was militarily intervening in the Libya crisis.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel to Egypt to chair a meeting on Thursday over the situation in Libya, his spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Friday.

"In an effort to coordinate the international response on Libya, the secretary-general will chair a meeting of concerned international and regional organizations to be held at the League of Arab States headquarters in Cairo on Thursday, the 14th of April," he said.

"The objective of the meeting will be to exchange views and enhance coordination among the participating organizations in addressing the current crisis in Libya," he added.

Among the attendants will be Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the League of Arab States; Jean Ping, chairman of the Commission of the African Union (AU); Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief.

In addition, B. Lynn Pascoe, UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, and Abdullah Al-Khatib, Ban's special envoy for Libya, will travel to Qatar next week to represent the UN at the first meeting of an international contact group over the Libya crisis, Nesirky said.

The contact group, established at an international conference on Libya held late last month in London, is aimed at providing political direction for Libya's future.

Also on Friday, Russia repeated its call for a ceasefire and a political solution to the Libya crisis.

"It is obvious that the Libyan problem cannot be resolved by armed forces," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that relevant parties "need to find a basis to promote national reconciliation, in consideration of true interests and aspirations of the Libyan people."

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu also said Friday that there was "no purely military solution" to the Libyan crisis and that "it is important to find a political solution."

Brushing away the allegation that a military stalemate has emerged in Libya, Lungescu said, "There is no stalemate. Just on the contrary, there is a clear drive from the international community to urgently find a political solution to this conflict."

Besides, the Italian foreign ministry said Friday that Libyan rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil is due to visit Rome next week in his first visit abroad as chairman of the Transitional National Council (TNC) of Libya.

Clashes between Libyan government troops and rebel forces continued Friday in the coastal city of Misrata. The rebels said that they repulsed an attack by the government troops on the eastern flank of the city.

In what apparently was the second friendly fire accident between NATO and the Libyan rebels, NATO aircraft bombed a rebel tank column and caused a number of deaths, the alliance confirmed Friday.

Following the mistake, Libyan rebels painted the roofs of their vehicles bright pink to avoid more friendly fire casualties.

Editor: Fang Yang

Public opinion to deadly NATO mistaken airstrike

Battle for key city of Misrata continues



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