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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Clinton heads to Abu Dhabi for talks on Libya as NATO jets batter Tripoli

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of the United States headed Wednesday for Abu Dhabi to consult with countries backing military action in Libya and looking at more ways to help the Libyan opposition, as a wave of NATO air strikes battered Tripoli.

The talks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital on Thursday come after President Barack Obama said NATO’s mission in Libya was forging “inexorable” advances that meant it was only a matter of time before defiant Muammar Qaddafi’s departure, according to Agence-France Presse.

The so-called International Contact Group meeting will build on a May 5 gathering in Rome where Mrs. Clinton and her partners agreed on a new fund to aid Libya’s protesters and promised to tap frozen assets of Qaddafi’s regime.
Libyan women sit near drawings of Libyan leader Qaddafi near a courthouse in Benghazi. (File photo)
US officials said the participants will discuss a “range of issues,” including implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973.

Resolution 1970 imposed bans on assets and travel on members of Mr. Qaddafi’s regime as well as an arms embargo.

Resolution 1973 authorized “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, including air strikes on Mr. Qaddafi’s ground forces and a no-fly zone.

The International Contact Group on Libya, which includes all the countries participating in the NATO-led campaign targeting Colonel Qaddafi’s regime, held its inaugural meeting in Qatar, which participates in the NATO mission.

A wave of NATO air strikes, meanwhile, battered Tripoli early Wednesday, piling pressure on embattled Mr. Qaddafi who said he was “near” the bombing but vowed never to surrender.

Loud blasts were heard near Mr. Qaddafi’s residential complex Bab Al Aziziya at around 1:45 am (2345 GMT Tuesday), an AFP correspondent said. A little later the city was shaken by more powerful explosions.

In Brussels, where NATO defense ministers were to meet on Wednesday to discuss the progress of the Libya campaign, Mr. Qaddafi's daughter Aisha filed a war crimes complaint against the Western alliance, claiming it knowingly bombed a civilian target, killing her daughter and other family members.

The complaint, a copy of which was seen by AFP, relates to an April 30 NATO raid on Tripoli, which Libyan officials said killed the strongman’s youngest son and three grandchildren.

NATO intensifies campaign

NATO has intensified its campaign, launching daily raids on Tripoli, but only nine of NATO’s 28 member states are taking part in the strikes. France and Britain are bearing the brunt of the load with helicopters now in their arsenal.

The other countries are the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Italy and non-NATO state the United Arab Emirates, which sent 12 warplanes to enforce the no-fly zone.

Countries such as Spain and the Netherlands, and non-NATO partner Sweden, have contributed combat jets but their roles are limited to enforcing the no-fly zone aimed at preventing Mr. Qaddafi’s attack planes from taking off.

Turkey, which reluctantly backed the mission in the six-million-people country, is only participating in the naval embargo.

Around a dozen NATO members are not contributing any assets to the mission, including Germany, which has refused to back the United Nations resolution that authorized the mission.

Weeks of air strikes on regime targets have thus far failed to force the 68-year-old colonel out, but President Obama nevertheless insisted that he was on borrowed time after a brutal four-decades-long rule.
Libyan rebels head towards street battles with forces loyal to Qaddafi near Brega.
Libyan rebels head towards street battles with forces loyal to Qaddafi near Brega.
The president, criticized by some domestic opponents for allowing Britain and France to take the lead in the NATO mission after an initial US blitz, argued that the effort had already achieved substantial goals.

Meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Obama said that the port city of Benghazi was now free from the threat of the Libyan regime and that Colonel Qaddafi forces had been pushed back from the city of Misrata.

“What you’re seeing across the country is a inexorable trend of the regime forces being pushed back, being incapacitated,” he said on Tuesday, according to AFP.

“You’re seeing defections, often times of some very high-profile members of the Qaddafi government, as well as the military.”

“I think it is just a matter of time before Qaddafi goes.”

In addition to NATO countries, representatives from the United Nations, Arab League, European Union, Organization of Islamic Conference, and the Gulf Cooperation Council will be at the talks.

Diplomatic overtures

Diplomatic overtures were being made to the protesters by world powers, including Russia and China, despite their misgivings about interference in Libya's affairs.

A Russian special envoy for Africa said in the revolt capital of Benghazi on Tuesday that Mr. Qaddafi could no longer represent Libya and that Russia was ready to help in any way possible, according to Reuters.

In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said an Egypt-based Chinese diplomat had visited Benghazi for talks with the revolt-led National Transitional Council.

Al Saedi Qaddafi, one of Mr. Qaddafi’s sons, said in comments broadcast on state television that the fighting in Libya was an attempt by Islamists to seize power.

“(Muslim) Brotherhood members, Jihadists and Takfiris (other Islamist fundamentalists) should not dream to return to Libya to take charge of it,” he said, according to Reuters.

“This is a battle of principles. The leader (Muammar Qaddafi) and the Libyan people have nothing to do with it,” he said in remarks by telephone to Jamahiriya television.

(Abeer Tayel, a senior editor at Al Arabiya

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