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Fourth Day Of Air Strikes Keeps Pressure On Qaddafi

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 22.03.2011 16:00

Coalition forces have carried out air strikes in Libya for a fourth day, targeting the military infrastructure of longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi.

Antiaircraft gunfire rang out across Tripoli throughout the night as state television reported that several sites had come under attack in the capital.

Fighting between forces loyal to the Libyan leader and the rebels also continued.

In the west, there were reports of fighting in the besieged rebel-held cities of Misrata and Zintan. AFP news agency quoted residents as saying that fighting also erupted in the town of Yafran, southwest of Tripoli, in the past two days between Qaddafi's followers and the rebels who control the area.

And in the east, rebels outside Ajdabiyah said they could still not advance on the town because heavily armed troops loyal to Qaddafi could still overwhelm them.

U.S. Plane Crashes

The U.S. military, meanwhile, said one of its warplanes crashed overnight, likely because of mechanical failure and not hostile fire. It said both crew members of the fighter jet had been rescued safely.

A United Nations Security Council resolution approved last week allows "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by Qaddafi's troops.

So far, air strikes have stopped Qaddafi loyalists from advancing on opposition-controlled cities in the east -- leaving a trail of charred military vehicles on the road between Ajdabiyah and Benghazi.

U.S. officials said the focus of the operation was now shifting to expand the UN-authorized no-fly zone.

How Hard And For How Long?

The United States and its allies have run into some criticism for the intensity of the firepower unleashed on Libya.

And political debate is growing on the international stage about how far UN authorization allows air strikes to go.

China, which along with Russia abstained from last week's vote on the UN resolution, today called for an immediate cease-fire. The Foreign Ministry said the use of force in Libya "could result in more civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis."

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told his visiting U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, that Russia wants to see an immediate cease-fire in Libya and the start of political negotiations in order to protect the civilian population.

"Recent events have shown that real combat operations have already begun in [Libya] in which civilian installations have been affected and peaceful civilians have been killed," he said. "That should not have been allowed to happen and we made our position clear to our U.S. colleagues."

Gates countered by saying that Qaddafi's claims about civilian casualties were "outright lies." He said the actions of the coalition were "completely consistent with the UN Security Council resolution" calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone and protecting civilian lives.

Who’s In Charge?

There also are questions about who should be leading the mission.

There is coordination among coalition forces, led by the United States, France, and Britain, and including a number of other European states and Arab countries -- but no unified command.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States would transfer its leading role on Libya "within days" to ensure the burden of enforcing the no-fly zone is shared.

In Russia, Gates declined to say who might lead the operations, but said that "the NATO machinery may be used for command and control" in the mission.

NATO Secretary -General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, meanwhile, signaled that there was as yet no consensus on whether the no-fly zone should be enforced by the alliance.

But he said the allies had decided to launch a naval operation to enforce the UN-mandated arms embargo on Libya.

Norway has said its six fighter jets would stay grounded as long as it was unclear who is running the operations.

Britain, the United States, and Italy are pushing the strongest for a NATO role, but other allies, such as Turkey, oppose NATO taking a lead role.

Turkey Wants Humanitarian Focus

In a speech to members of his ruling AK Party in Ankara today, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the United Nations should be the umbrella for a solely humanitarian operation in Libya.

"We want Libya to resolve its internal matters without foreign intervention," he said. "The change in Libya should be brought by Libya's internal dynamics."

The conflict in Libya also exposed tensions between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Putin condemned the UN resolution as a "medieval call to crusade." Medvedev, who was due to meet Gates in Moscow later today, rejected Putin's comment as unacceptable.

compiled from agency reports


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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