Khadafy shows his defiance as Tripoli is struck
Missiles shake capital; Clinton calls for unity
TRIPOLI, Libya — Moammar Khadafy rolled defiantly through the streets of Tripoli, pumping his fists as he poked through the sunroof of an SUV yesterday — the same day that NATO airstrikes shook the city. The alliance’s foreign ministers, while united in their aim to pressure the Libyan leader to go, argued at a meeting over whether to step up military operations that have so far failed to rout him.
Khadafy gave no sign that he is willing to relent, despite two months of civil war and mounting international pressure for him to move aside. Instead, his loyalists pounded rebel positions in the besieged western city of Misurata with dozens of rockets for several hours, killing at least 13 people.
The main target of the assault was Misurata’s port, the only lifeline for rebels who have been trying to defend positions in the city, Libya’s third-largest, against Khadafy’s forces.
In the capital of Tripoli, several large explosions were heard and a column of black smoke rose from the southeastern part of the city, followed by the sound of antiaircraft guns, a resident said.
Libyan state television showed Khadafy — dressed in a black Western blazer, black crewneck T-shirt, sunglasses, and a hat — standing through the open sunroof of a sport utility vehicle on a fist-pumping, rapid ride through Tripoli with dozens of supporters chasing behind him. Libyan TV said the trip came on the same day that NATO airstrikes hit military and civilian areas in the capital.
The TV report said there were civilian casualties from the attacks. The report could not be confirmed.
The fighting in Libya began in mid-February when large antigovernment protests escalated into a civil war. Rebels hold much of eastern Libya, while Khadafy controls the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. Three weeks of international airstrikes have not routed Khadafy’s forces.
Khadafy’s troops unleashed three hours of heavy shelling on the port city of Misurata, which is partly held by rebels. The port is Misurata’s only lifeline, and government forces fired tank shells and dozens of Grad missiles, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation.
“They want to flatten the area to deploy the troops on foot and invade the city,’’ said one of the witnesses, a doctor whose first name was Ayman. He added that a ship sent by Doctors Without Borders to evacuate 165 critically injured people to Tunisia had been scheduled to arrive yesterday morning at Misurata’s port, and he believed the government had shelled the port to interfere with the humanitarian aid.
Another doctor in Misurata, who gave his name only as Khaled for fear of retribution, said some of those killed were inside their houses asleep at the time of the shelling. Among the dead were two men aged 75 and 80.
Khadafy forces have control of a highway on the outskirts of Misurata.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chaired a Cairo meeting of regional and international organizations on Libya and set three targets: reaching and implementing a cease-fire, delivering humanitarian aid, and starting a dialogue on Libya’s future.
“Shelling your own people is not acceptable,’’ he said at a meeting at Arab League headquarters, referring to actions by Khadafy’s forces. “This is a violation of human rights.’’
At a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, the United States and its allies put up a united front on the goals of the alliance’s stalemated military mission in Libya but failed to resolve behind-the-scenes squabbling over how to achieve them.
NATO members agreed on paper with President Obama that Khadafy had to go to end the crisis, but they also made clear that they would not be the ones to oust him. Although several NATO members want the alliance to commit more planes to expand the air campaign, the first day of meetings closed without any specific commitments for more aircraft.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed for unity, saying Khadafy was taunting the alliance by continuing to strike cities held by rebels seeking his overthrow.
“As our mission continues, maintaining our resolve and unity only grows more important,’’ Clinton said. “Khadafy is testing our determination.’’
The United States is resisting suggestions that it resume a large combat role to break a deadlock between rebels and better-armed forces loyal to Khadafy.
Clinton and other top diplomats pointedly said their UN mandate for an air campaign does not extend to Khadafy’s exit by force.