Tag Archives: Libya

Libya’s transitional leader declares liberation, sets Islamist tone for future

By The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

BENGHAZI, LibyaLibya‘s transitional leader declared his country’s liberation on Sunday, three days after the hated dictator Moammar Gadhafi was captured and killed.

He called on Libyans to show “patience, honesty and tolerance” and eschew hatred as they embark on rebuilding the country at the end of an 8-month civil war.

The transitional government leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil set out a vision for the post-Gadhafi future with an Islamist tint, saying that Islamic Sharia law would be the “basic source” of legislation in the country and that existing laws that contradict the teachings of Islam would be nullified. In a gesture that showed his own piety, he urged Libyans not to express their joy by firing in the air, but rather to chant “Allahu Akbar,” or God is Great. He then stepped aside and knelt to offer a brief prayer of thanks.

“This revolution was looked after by God to achieve victory,” he told the crowd at the declaration ceremony in the eastern city of Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising against Gadhafi began. He thanked those who fell in the fight against Gadhafi’s forces. “This revolution began peacefully to demand the minimum of legitimate rights, but it was met by excessive violence.”

Abdul-Jalil said new banks would be set up to follow the Islamic banking system, which bans charging interest. For the time being, he said interest would be cancelled from any personal loans already taken out less than 10,000 Libyan dinars (about $7,500).

He also announced that all military personnel and civilians who have taken part in the fight against Gadhafi would be promoted to the rank above their existing one. He said a package of perks would later be announced for all fighters.

“Thank You, thank you to the fighters who achieved victory, both civilians and military,” he said. He also paid tribute to the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-nation alliance led by Saudi Arabia, The Arab League and the European Union. NATO, which aided the anti-Gadhafi fighters with airstrikes, performed its task with “efficiency and professionalism.”

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/libyas-transitional-leader-declares-liberation-sets-islamist-tone-163539334.html


NATO chief says alliance will finish job in Libya

By Nick Carey | Reuters

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – NATO‘s chief on Thursday slapped down a call from Italy for a suspension of hostilities in Libya and tried to reassure wavering members of the Western coalition that Muammar Gaddafi can be beaten.

Italy’s ceasefire call exposed the strain on the NATO alliance, nearly 14 weeks into a bombing campaign that has so far failed to dislodge Gaddafi but is causing mounting concerns about its financial cost and about civilian casualties.

Highlighting the wider consequences of the war in the North African oil-producer, oil-consuming nations announced a rare move to release reserves from oil stockpiles to fill the gap left by disruption to Libyan output.

Asked about Italy’s ceasefire call, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a newspaper interview: “No, on the contrary. We shall continue and see it through to the end.”

“The allies are committed to making the necessary effort for a sustained operation,” he told France’s Le Figaro newspaper.

“We will take the time needed until the military objective is reached: end all attacks against Libyan civilians, return armed forces to barracks and freedom of movement for humanitarian aid.”

NATO says it is operating under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces as he tries to crush an uprising against his 41-year rule. Gaddafi says NATO’s real aim is to steal the country’s plentiful oil.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Libyan leader’s ability to hold out was being steadily worn down, so now was not the moment to relax the pressure on him.

“Time is on our side, time is not on the side of Colonel Gaddafi,” Cameron said on a visit to the Czech capital. “So we need to be patient and persistent.”

NATO said it had delivered a blow to Gaddafi forces near Zlitan, a town about 170 km (105 miles) east of Tripoli, with an air and naval strike on Wednesday that took out 13 armed vehicles, an armored personnel carrier and a rocket launcher.

NATO CRACKS

At the weekend, NATO acknowledged for the first time in the campaign that it may have caused multiple civilian casualties, when an air strike hit a house in Tripoli, prompting a vitriolic attack from Gaddafi in an audio speech broadcast late Wednesday.

“You said, ‘We hit our targets with precision’, you murderers!” he said. “One day we will respond to you likewise and your homes will be legitimate targets.”

Libyan officials in Tripoli took reporters to the central Green Square where a crowd of around 200 people, most of them women waving green flags or pictures of Gaddafi, had gathered to demonstrate their support.

“We love our leader. We want him to stay in this country,” said one woman, who gave her name as Budur.

There was though a note of discord. As the reporters were guided back to their bus by government minders, a man shouted out of his car window: “Gaddafi go down!”

FORCES STRETCHED

Time is now a crucial factor for both sides in the conflict, with unity in the NATO-led coalition likely to come under more strain and Gaddafi’s ability to resist being steadily worn down by sanctions, air strikes and fighting with rebels.

In Paris, the 28-member International Energy Agency said it would release 60 million barrels a day over an initial 30 days to fill the gap left by the disruption to Libya’s output.

Libya was exporting about 1.2 million bpd before the rebellion that brought its oil industry to a standstill.

“This supply disruption has been underway for some time and its effect has become more pronounced as it has continued,” said the IEA. “Greater tightness in the oil market threatens to undermine the fragile global economic recovery.”

In a sign that Gaddafi’s military is being stretched, a Reuters photographer in rebel-held Al Qalaa saw about 50 navy servicemen being held prisoner in a police station.

They said their commanders had told them they were being deployed to protect the region from attack by al Qaeda, and they were later captured by the rebels.

The conflict has effectively partitioned Libya. The eastern third around the city of Benghazi is in rebels hands while the West — apart from some rebel enclaves — is controlled by Gaddafi. There is almost no movement between the two.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had begun an operation to transfer people back home who had been trapped on the wrong side of the civil war divide.

It said a ship would take several hundred from Tripoli to Benghazi, and about 110 were due to travel the other way.

“Most of the people we are transferring are Libyans who were working away from their home towns or visiting relatives or friends when the conflict broke out,” said Paul Castella, head of the ICRC delegation in Tripoli.

“They are very eager to rejoin their families.”

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/nato-chief-tries-repair-cracks-over-libya-095345120.html


In ‘Gun’ we Trust

Libyan regime says it is arming civilians, teaching them how to shoot

By Karin Laub, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

GAZAHIYA, Libya – A 22-year-old university student balanced an unloaded grenade launcher on his shoulder, grunted loudly in place of an explosion as he pulled the trigger, then handed the weapon to the next man.

The military drill on the lawn of a clinic in a remote village in government-controlled western Libya was part of what Moammar Gadhafi‘s regime has tried to portray as a large-scale arming and training of the home front. Foreign reporters on a government tour were also taken to a school where a couple of teenage boys fired Kalashnikov rifles in the air.

The scenes appeared to have been hastily arranged. Men at a desert shooting range — barrels set up as targets on a rocky plain — said they had been bused to the site for the first time that day. A few dozen middle school boys were participating in a military rally in their school yard and some said they had received their fatigues just a day earlier.

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said last week that hundreds of thousands of rifles were being distributed to civilians to defend the home front, a claim that is impossible to verify because of tight restrictions on journalists in western Libya. About a dozen Libyans interviewed in three different areas recently said they had been handed Kalashnikovs from municipal weapons depots.

The reports that the government was arming supporters to suppress anti-regime demonstrations in the capital Tripoli first emerged at the start of the uprising against Gadhafi in mid-February. The government claims it is arming people to defend against foreign ground troops — even though there are none in western Libya — rather than to fight fellow Libyans.

However, the attempt to show civilians training with weapons could be a sign that Gadhafi loyalists are growing more nervous about their grip on western Libya. There has been persistent fighting in two major pockets of rebel resistance in that part of the country, including the coastal city of Misrata where rebels have held out during a two-month onslaught.

Those training Wednesday in the Tarhouna district, 70 kilometres (45 miles) southeast of the capital of Tripoli, seemed unsure of who their enemy was. Some struggled with whether they would shoot at fellow Libyans who have risen up against Gadhafi and now control the east of the country.

Volunteers said they had been told they must defend their homes against NATO ground troops, but would not be asked to go to the front. Some dismissed the rebels as al-Qaida-led ex-convicts or foreigners, repeating government propaganda that has tried to paint the rebels as Islamic extremists.

High school student Sanna Kanouni, 16, said she was learning how to handle a rifle to repel the “barbarian, colonial crusader aggression.” Asked what she knew about the rebels in the east, she said they are drug-taking foreigners, not Libyans — mimicking a line also put out by the government.

In her crammed classroom a lesson in taking apart a Kalashnikov was under way. Kanouni briefly fumbled with the weapons parts, gave up and pumped her fist to the pro-Gadhafi chants of her classmates.

Outside the high school, students posed with Kalashnikovs, some of them firing in the air.

High school students in Libya have traditionally received some weapons training, students and teachers at the school said, though they disagreed on the starting age of military training and on what exactly was involved.

At an elementary and middle school in the nearby village of Sagya, two dozen boys who appeared to be around 11 or 12 years old and were dressed in military fatigues participated in a pro-Gadhafi rally on the school grounds.

They briefly marched and stood at attention. Their principal, Abdel Razek Mahmoudi, said the boys had started marching drills two weeks ago, but were not touching guns.

However, 11-year-old Abdullah Rajab Iyad, said he’d been allowed to handle a gun earlier that day. The principal, overhearing the conversation, abruptly led the boy away.

Men in their 20s fired wildly into the air in the school yard, from amid the children. The program ended with a competition among about 20 men to see who was fastest at taking apart a Kalashnikov and putting it back together again.

Abdel Monem al-Muftah, who oversees the training of civilians in Tarhouna, said about 200 people each have been trained at 15 sites, ranging in age from 18 to 70.

On the clinic grounds in Gazahiya, several dozen men sat in circles, each group learning about a different weapon. The training seemed basic at best.

Mohammed Jumma, a 22-year-old computer science student, was handed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher without ammunition. The instructor told him to make sure no one was behind him before he fired — the weapon sends out a powerful backblast. He then corrected Jumma’s stance, left foot forward if the launcher is on the right shoulder.

Jumma pulled the trigger. The anticlimactic click that followed was not deemed satisfying, and he was asked to fire again, this time with a loud yell, before the launcher was handed to the next in line.

Moammar al-Ghrara, a 37-year-old Arabic teacher, said he would command a group of 40 men if the time came to defend the neighbourhood. Al-Ghrara refused to entertain the thought that the rebels were ordinary Libyans.

When pressed, he said he would shoot at anyone, including Libyans, if they attacked his area.

The heavy weapons were displayed at the desert shooting range. Four men in fatigues crouching on the ground fired heavy machine-guns toward barrels. Others fired off grenade launchers and an anti-aircraft gun, to the chants of “Allahu Akbar.”

Omar Musbah Omar, 23, said he has been training off and on for the past month, and that he and each of his four brothers had been given Kalashnikovs to keep at home. He said he would never raise a weapon against a fellow Libyan.

But, he said: “We’re ready for NATO.”

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/libyan-regime-says-arming-civilians-teaching-them-shoot-183128927.html


France eyes new military targets in Libya

By Elizabeth Pineau and Catherine Bremer | Reuters

PARIS (Reuters) – France is pushing for NATO approval to extend military strikes on Muammar Gaddafi‘s army to strategic logistical targets, to try to break a deadlock in Libya‘s civil war as the civilian death toll mounts.

The push comes as France and Britain, which are leading the campaign in Libya, struggle to get coalition partners to step up participation or contribute more hardware, despite pleas from rebels that civilians are dying in the besieged city of Misrata.

The United States and European NATO allies rebuffed French and British calls on Thursday to contribute more actively to ground strikes in Libya, and military sources say neither Paris nor London plan to deploy any extra aircraft.

France used military helicopters to fire on armored vehicles in its recent intervention in Ivory Coast, which sped up the ouster of former president Laurent Gbagbo.

But it has made no move to deploy them in Libya, where they would make easy targets for Gaddafi’s army.

France’s two amphibious assault helicopter carriers are currently on base in the port of Toulon and in the Indian Ocean, the Navy says.

While the focus will remain on air strikes from fighter jets, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said on Friday their target should move from Gaddafi’s military bases to logistics and decision centres.

Longuet told LCI television strikes should now focus on “military decision centres in Libya or on logistics depots which today are being spared.” A French military source said the next step was to try and get an agreement on this.

“We have already hit military targets. We want to hit more and more strategic targets,” the source said. “We have hit quite a few tanks and planes, we can continue on other targets. The idea is to weaken Gaddafi by hitting harder and harder … to strike where it hurts most but avoiding collateral damage.”

“Now we need the coalition countries to agree on other targets,” the source added.

STRIKE ASSETS

NATO forces have around 195 aircraft, including fighter jets and refueling tankers, at their disposal for Libya operations, around half of which have been supplied by France and Britain.

France has roughly 50 combat planes deployed in the operation, based at its Solenzara air base in Corsica and on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.

Officials say seven of the 28 NATO countries — Britain, France, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and the United States — have been taking part in air strikes. Others are enforcing the no-fly zone without bombing or supporting it in other ways.

Douglas Barrie, a military aviation expert at London’s International Institute for Security Studies, said attack helicopters and armed unmanned aircraft, or drones, could be of use in Libya.

“The trouble is, most available drones are being used in Afghanistan and attack helicopters would be a potential escalation as they are vulnerable to ground fire from small arms and MANPADS (man portable air defense systems),” he said.

The French military source said France did not need to bring in more aircraft as the planes and missiles it has to hand would be adequate for small logistical targets. A British Ministry of Defense source said Britain did not plan to add planes.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain was talking to other countries about providing more strike aircraft.

“Certainly we are making a bit of progress on that and so I’m hopeful there will be more strike assets made available to NATO,” he said.

Longuet said targeting strategic military sites could avoid the coalition having to take the decision to arm the rebels.

“Our goal is not to organize a front, it’s that Gaddafi’s troops go back to their barracks,” he said.

A member of the opposition transition council told Reuters on Thursday the West must ramp up its operations and consider arming the rebels or sending in troops to fight Gaddafi’s forces.

Suliman Fortea said during a brief visit to Paris that arms were getting through to the rebels, and defectors from Gaddafi’s army were training them but more help was needed.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/france-eyes-military-targets-libya-20110415-094723-463.html


Pro-Gadhafi forces shell western city of Misrata for hours while NATO officials meet

By Karin Laub,Maggie Michael, The Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya – Troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi unleashed heavy shelling Friday on Misrata, pushing troops and tanks into the rebel-held western city, a witness said, while NATO officials struggled to overcome differences over its mission to dislodge the defiant Libyan leader.

Elsewhere in Libya, NATO warplanes struck Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte in the east, Libyan TV said. In the capital of Tripoli, there were reports of heightened security measures in an apparent attempt to prevent anti-government protests.

A helicopter circled over Misrata for several hours, apparently spotting targets for artillery in Libya’s third-largest city, in defiance of the NATO-enforced no-fly zone. Forces bombarded the city with fire from tanks, artillery and rockets.

Eight bodies of civilians were taken to a hospital but there are many causalities among the fighters who took guns and arms to defend their city, said the resident, who spoke on condition he be identified only by his given name, Abdel-Salam, for fear of retaliation.

The assault by Gadhafi forces was the heaviest in the 50-day-old siege of Misrata — the only major remaining rebel stronghold in western Libya.

His troops have continued to attack rebel positions as part of a deadlocked civil war sparked two months ago by anti-government protests. The international community stepped into the conflict a month ago, with NATO unleashing airstrikes on Gadhafi-linked military targets.

The latest attacks followed new shows of defiance by Gadhafi on Thursday and by his daughter, Aisha, who rallied a crowd early Friday from a balcony at her father’s compound that was hit by U.S. warplanes 25 years ago.

Libyan TV said airstrikes targeted Sirte, although it did not provide details. Explosions were also heard from what appeared to be NATO strikes against Gadhafi’s forces near the coastal town of Brega.

Gadhafi controls the west of the country, while the rebels hold much of the east, with the front shifting back and forth.

In the capital of Tripoli, participants in a Facebook group said snipers were deployed on rooftops in the Tajoura neighbourhood and that security was tight around mosques.

On Thursday, Al-Sadek al-Ghariani, a top Muslim cleric in Libya, said in a video posted on Facebook that it was a religious duty to join protests on Friday. In February, he issued two fatwas calling for anti-Gadhafi protests and then went into hiding. Gadhafi forces apparently are trying to find him.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/her-fathers-compound-bombed-25-years-ago-gadhafis-20110414-230254-105.html


US eyes more firepower against Gadhafi’s forces; Obama says pressure rising on Libyan leader

By Richard Lardner, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON – Even after a week of U.S.-led air strikes, forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi remain a potent threat to civilians, say Pentagon officials who are considering expanding the firepower and airborne surveillance systems in the military campaign.

“Every day, the pressure on Gadhafi and his regime is increasing,” President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, aired just after Libyan rebels regained control of the eastern city of Ajdabiya. It was the first major turnaround in an uprising that once appeared on the verge of defeat.

Obama also readied for a speech to the nation Monday evening to explain his decision-making on Libya to a public weary of a decade of war.

Lawmakers from both parties have complained that the president has not sought their input about the U.S. role in Libya or stated clearly the U.S. goals and exit strategy.

“The United States should not and cannot intervene every time there’s a crisis somewhere in the world,” Obama said in the speech Saturday. But with Gadhafi threatening “a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region … it’s in our national interest to act. And it’s our responsibility. This is one of those times.”

Among the weapons under consideration for use in Libya is the Air Force’s AC-130 gunship, armed with cannons that shoot from the side doors. Other possibilities are helicopters and drones that fly lower and slower and can spot more than fast-moving jet fighters.

Obama said in an email statement Saturday that “we are now handing over control of the no-fly zone to our NATO allies and partners, including Arab partners like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”

In light of that goal, the discussion of adding weapons to step up the assault on Gadhafi’s ground troops reflects the challenges in hitting the right targets.

U.S.-led forces began missile strikes last Saturday to establish a no-fly zone and prevent Gadhafi from attacking his own people.

American officials have said they won’t drop bombs in cities to avoid killing or wounding civilians — a central pillar of the operation. Yet they want to hit the enemy in contested urban areas.

“The difficulty in identifying friend from foe anywhere is always a difficult challenge,” Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday at the Pentagon. The difficulty in distinguishing “friend from foe inside an urban environment is magnified significantly.”

Army Gen. Carter Ham, the U.S. officer in charge of the overall international mission, told The Associated Press, the focus is on disrupting the communications and supply lines that allow Gadhafi’s forces to keep fighting in the contested cities.

Ham said in a telephone interview from his U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, that the U.S. expected NATO would take command of the no-fly zone mission on Sunday, with a Canadian three-star general, Charles Bouchard, in charge. Bouchard would report to an American admiral, Samuel Locklear, in Locklear’s role as commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, he said.

But with the Obama administration eager to take a back seat in the Libya campaign, it is still when — or even if — the U.S. military’s Africa Command would shift the lead role in attacking Libyan ground targets to NATO. U.S officials say the alliance is finalizing the details of the transfer this weekend.

Obama spoke with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders about Libya on Friday afternoon. Republican Sen. John McCain said he was concerned that the current military action might not be enough force Gadhafi from power, his spokeswoman said.

Brooke Buchanan said McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, supports the military intervention but fears it could lead to a stalemate that leaves Gadhafi’s government in place.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/us-eyes-more-firepower-against-gadhafis-forces-obama-20110326-074523-714.html

 


Western strike hits Gaddafi compound

By Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy | Reuters

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Western forces launched a second wave of air strikes on Libya overnight and officials in Tripoli said a missile intended to kill Muammar Gaddafi had destroyed a building in his fortified compound.

“It was a barbaric bombing,” said government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim, showing pieces of shrapnel that he said came from the missile. “This contradicts American and Western (statements) … that it is not their target to attack this place.”

There was no comment on the strike from attacking forces.

The first air strikes on Saturday halted the advance of Gaddafi’s forces on the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi and had targeted Libya’s air defences in order to let Western warplanes patrol the skies of this oil-producing north African desert state.

The second wave of Western air strikes also hit Gaddafi’s troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of east Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help to take the fight to the enemy.

“If we don’t get more help from the West, Gaddafi’s forces will eat us alive,” rebel fighter Nouh Musmari told Reuters.

The U.N.-mandated intervention to protect civilians caught up in a one-month-old revolt against Gaddafi drew criticism from Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who questioned the need for a heavy bombardment, which he said had killed many civilians.

Moussa said on Monday however that the League respected the U.N. resolution while stressing a need to protect civilians.

The United States, carrying out the air strikes in a coalition with Britain, France, Italy and Canada among others, said the campaign was working and dismissed a ceasefire announcement by the Libyan military on Sunday evening.

STRIKES “FOR A LITTLE WHILE”

Henri Guaino, one of French President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s closest aides, said the strikes were not aimed at ousting the autocrat who has ruled Libya for 41 years but told RMC radio that they were likely to last “a little while”.

Britain’s Defence Ministry said one of its submarines had again fired Tomahawk cruise missiles as part of a second wave of attacks to enforce the U.N. resolution but that one air force mission was called off because of civilians in the target area.

“As the RAF GR4 Tornados approached the target, further information came to light … As a result the decision was taken not to launch weapons,” a ministry spokesman said, adding this underlined the British commitment to protecting civilians.

The Libyan government urged people in towns, cities and tribes to join a march from Tripoli to Benghazi “so we could exchange condolences, … announce forgiveness … and then we could sit down as one family …”

The intervention in Libya is the biggest against an Arab country since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Withdrawal of Arab support would make it much harder to pursue what some defence analysts say could in any case be a difficult, open-ended campaign with an uncertain outcome.

Asked about Moussa’s concerns about the conduct of the campaign, Michele Flournoy, Under Secretary at the U.S. Department for Defense, told the BBC:

“I think that may be the case that people don’t understand the military dimensions of what was required to establish the no-fly zone but I can tell you that we continue to have … statements of support from a number of Arab countries.”

Italy said it had warplanes in the air, after U.S. and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, director of the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, told reporters there had been no new Libyan air activity or radar emissions, but a significant decrease in Libyan air surveillance, since strikes began Saturday.

BENGHAZI NOT FREE FROM THREAT

Benghazi was not yet free from threat, said Gortney, but Gaddafi forces in the area were in distress and “suffering from isolation and confusion” after the air assaults.

Late on Sunday night, Libyan officials took Western reporters to Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, a sprawling complex that houses his private quarters as well as military barracks, anti-aircraft batteries and other installations, to see what they said was the site of a missile attack two hours earlier.

A short walk from a brightly lit tent where Gaddafi receives his guests, the three-storey building stood in ruins, and a circular hole was visible on its gutted facade. The United States says it does not have Gaddafi on its target list.

A Libyan military spokesman announced a new ceasefire on Sunday, saying that “the Libyan armed forces … have issued a command to all military units to safeguard an immediate ceasefire from 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) this evening”.

Both before and after he spoke, heavy anti-aircraft gunfire boomed above central Tripoli.

Outside Benghazi, smouldering, shattered tanks and troop carriers from what had been Gaddafi’s advancing forces littered the main road. The charred bodies of at least 14 government soldiers lay scattered in the desert.

But with Gaddafi having vowed to fight to the death, there were fears his troops might try to force their way into cities, seeking shelter from air attacks among the civilian population.

In central Benghazi, sporadic explosions and heavy exchanges of gunfire could be heard in the streets late on Sunday evening. A Reuters witness said the firing lasted about 40 minutes.

In Misrata, the last rebel-held city in western Libya, a rebel spokesman said pro-Gaddafi forces were bringing in civilians from nearby towns to use as human shields and that those forces killed seven people there on Sunday.

Residents said water supplies were cut off and Libyan troops had encircled the town.

A Libyan government health official said 64 people were killed by Western bombardment on Saturday and Sunday, but it was impossible to verify the report independently.

ARAB SUPPORT CRUCIAL

Arab support for a no-fly zone provided crucial underpinning for the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution last week that paved the way for Western action to stop Gaddafi killing civilians as he fights an uprising against his 41-year rule.

The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the no-fly zone was now in place.

But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States would not have a “pre-eminent role” in maintaining it, and expected to turn over “primary responsibility” within days, perhaps to Britain or France.

U.S. officials, eager to avoid similarities to the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, have been playing down Washington’s role and emphasising that overthrowing or killing Gaddafi is not the goal of the attacks on Libya.

Mullen told CBS television the endgame of the campaign was “very uncertain” and acknowledged it could end in a stalemate.

Gates told reporters: “I think this is basically going to have to be resolved by the Libyans themselves.”

In Brussels, NATO envoys failed to agree on any alliance involvement in enforcing the no-fly zone.

NATO members Turkey and Germany have spoken out against the zone, and diplomats said France had argued against involvement by an alliance whose reputation in the Arab world had been tainted by its involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

French planes fired the first shots of the intervention on Saturday, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles near Benghazi.

France sent an aircraft carrier towards Libya and its planes were over the country again on Sunday, defence officials said. Britain said its planes had targeted Libya’s air defences, mainly around the capital Tripoli.

Other countries, including Qatar, also dispatched aircraft to participate in the operation, U.S. officials said.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/western-powers-strike-libya-second-night-20110320-192228-749.html