Libyan capital rocked by explosions


Government officials say strikes target Gaddafi’s compound, as rebels claim advances in western city of Misurata

Libyan television aired footage said to show Gaddafi meeting tribal leaders on Wednesday [Reuters]

Four apparent NATO air strikes have rocked Tripoli as jets flew overhead, soon after the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi appeared on state television for the first time in almost two weeks.
The early morning strikes on Thursday, which Libyan government officials said targeted Gaddafi’s compound in the Bab al-Aziziya area, shook the windows of a hotel where journalists are staying in the capital.
At the nearby Khadra Hospital, medics wheeled in two men they said were killed in the shelling.Plumes of white smoke could be seen rising above the city following the blasts, as emergency vehicle sirens wailed and sporadic gunfire rang out.
The strikes came after Libyan state TV showed footage it said was of Gaddafi meeting with tribal leaders, the first video of him aired in nearly two weeks.
A Libyan official told reporters the video was shot around 1730 GMT on Wednesday showing 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 the date shown on a television screen close to Gaddafi – Wednesday May 11.

The last time Gaddafi appeared on television was after an April 30 air strike that the regime termed “an attempt on his life”.

The government said that strike killed Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Arab and three of his grandchildren, in “a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country.”

Rebels advance

Rebels said they had captured Misurata city’s airport on Wednesday, pushing Gaddafi’s forces ever further from the city’s western outskirts.

Rebel sources told Al Jazeera that they had also taken the military airbase, which is part of the same facility, though other reports described pockets of ongoing fighting in the area.

In Tripoli, a government spokesman denied the rebels’ 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.

Growing EU support

Meanwhile Britain said that the head of Libya’s rebel council will visit the country on Thursday and meet Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss the possibility of setting up a London office.

Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil will also meet Foreign Secretary William Hague and Finance Minister George Osborne to examine measures agreed at last week’s Contact Group meeting in Rome, the Foreign Office said in a statement.

It will be the first time that Jalil has met the British leader for face-to-face talks.

The EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also announced plans to open an office in Benghazi to facilitate assistance to the rebel council based there.

“I intend to open an office in Benghazi so that we can move forward on the support we’ve discussed to the people… to support civil society, to support the Interim Transitional National Council,” Ashton told the European Parliament.

She said EU support would include help for security sector reform and institution-building. “We want to help with education, with health care, with security on the borders,” she said.

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