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Gaddafi troops force rebels back to key town
Tripoli, Mar 29 (Agencies):
Published on 30 Mar. 2011 12:14 AM IST
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Pro-government forces have intensified attacks on Libyan rebels, forcing them back to the key town of Bin Jawad. The renewed fighting came as delegates from dozens of countries were gathering in London for a conference on the future of Libya.
US President Obama earlier defended the first military intervention of his presidency, insisting that US involvement would be limited.
But he also said overthrowing Col Gaddafi by force would be a mistake.
Anti-Gaddafi forces had made rapid progress westwards from their stronghold in Benghazi in recent days - greatly aided by international air strikes - seizing a number of coastal communities and important oil installations, including Ras Lanuf, Brega, Uqayla and Bin Jawad.
But on Tuesday rebel fighters said pro-Gaddafi forces had used heavy weaponry to check their advance.
They have been forced to retreat from the town of Nawfaliya, 120km (75 miles) from Col Gaddafi’s birthplace Sirte, to the coastal town of Bin Jawad, some 30km further east.
Government forces stationed to the west of Bin Jawad fired artillery rockets at rebels just to its east, says the BBC’s Nick Springate at the scene. The rebels returned fire with Katyusha rockets.
A Pentagon spokesman in Washington, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, said that because the Libyan rebels were not well organised, any military gains they made would be tenuous.
He said the rebels were clearly benefiting from actions of the US, which has started using heavily-armed low-flying aircraft against government forces.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said on Tuesday the US had not ruled out arming the rebel forces.
Meanwhile, ships from the US Sixth Fleet attacked three Libyan ships that had been firing indiscriminately at merchant ships in the port of Misrata, west of Sirte.
One of the vessels was destroyed and a second beached, while the third was abandoned, US Navy officials were quoted as saying by Reuters. In eastern Libya, rebel radio has been urging more people in the west of the country to join the anti-Gaddafi uprising.
Nato has denied that its air strikes are meant to provide cover for a rebel advance. But while Nato insists it is impartial in the conflict, Russia has renewed its expressions of concern, saying intervention in an internal civil war is not sanctioned by UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
Ahead of Tuesday’s conference, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he wanted Col Gaddafi to leave power and face trial at the International Criminal Court.
Some 40 delegations - from the coalition, the UN, Nato, the African Union and Arab League, but not the Libyan government - will be represented in London. Rebel officials have been invited for talks on the meeting’s sidelines, although not to the conference itself.
In a letter to those attending the conference, Col Gaddafi called for an end to the “barbaric offensive” on his country.
In his first televised address on the Libyan intervention, Mr Obama said that having led the initial campaign - which had saved “countless lives” - the US would hand over to Nato allies on Wednesday.
“We have stopped Gaddafi’s deadly advance,” he said at the National Defense University in Washington DC.
But the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground would now move to the Americans’ allies, he added.
“We must always measure our interests against the need for action,” the president continued. “But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right.”
Earlier, in a video conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr Obama had agreed that Col Gaddafi “had lost any legitimacy to rule and should leave power, and that the Libyan people should have the political space to determine their own future”, the White House said.
An Italian proposal to end the crisis includes offering Col Gaddafi an escape route from Libya, ensuring a quick ceasefire and facilitating dialogue between rebels and tribal leaders.
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he had discussed the proposals with Germany and France.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim, meanwhile, has called on those attending Tuesday’s conference in London to act as “peacemakers, not warmongers

Gaddafi calls on international powers to end ‘barbaric’ attacks
Tripoli, Mar 29 (PTI): Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi called for an end to the “barbaric offensive” against Libya in a letter addressed to international powers meeting in London Tuesday to discuss his nation’s future.
In the letter, addressed to the “contact group” of nations meeting to map out a post-Gaddafi future for Libya, the strongman likened the NATO-led air strikes to military campaigns launched by Adolf Hitler during World War II.
The campaign was launched more than a week ago by Britain, France and the United States to enforce a UN no-fly zone on Libya and to protect civilians under attack by Gaddafi’s forces.
More than 35 countries, including seven Arab states, are meeting Tuesday in London as rebels, emboldened by the air strikes, closed in on the key city of Sirte as they advanced against Gaddafi’s forces.
Britain, France, Germany and the United States had agreed that the London talks should aid “the political transition in Libya,” said a French presidency statement.

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