Libyan rebels crack siege, move toward Tripoli
Clinton urges African leaders to abandon Khadafy
MISURATA, Libya — Libyan rebels yesterday broke out toward Tripoli from the opposition-held port of Misurata 140 miles to the east, cracking a government siege as fighters across the country mounted a resurgence in their four-month-old revolt against Moammar Khadafy.
The opposition forces pushed along the Mediterranean Sea to within 6 miles of Zlitan, the next city to the west. A rebel commander said his forces, using arms seized from government weapons depots and fresh armaments shipped in from Benghazi, expected to be in Zlitan by today.
If the rebels take the city they would be within 85 miles of the eastern outskirts of the capital, Tripoli.
The rebels gained a diplomatic boost as well yesterday when the visiting German foreign minister said the nascent opposition government was “the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.’’
Guido Westerwelle was visiting Benghazi, the capital of the rebel-held east of the country, to open a liaison office and hand over medical supplies.
He stopped short of full diplomatic recognition of the Transitional National Council, as has the United States, awaiting the ouster of Moammar Khadafy from his more than 40-year rule in the oil-rich North African country.
Germany has refused to participate in NATO airstrikes in Libya and withheld its support for the United Nations resolution that allowed the attacks.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke out against the Libyan regime yesterday, urging African nations to sever links with Khadafy despite his long support and patronage for leaders on the continent.
In a speech to diplomats at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Clinton said Africa should join most of the rest of the world in abandoning Khadafy. She said the Libyan leader has lost all legitimacy to rule because of attacks on his own citizens.
She urged African leaders to demand that Khadafy accept a cease-fire and then leave Libya.
What started as a peaceful uprising against Khadafy has become a civil war, with poorly equipped and trained rebel fighters taking control of the eastern third of Libya and pockets of the west.
But the fighting had reached a stalemate until last week when NATO began the heaviest bombardment of Khadafy forces since the alliance took control of the skies over Libya in March under a UN resolution to protect civilians from Khadafy’s wrath. NATO has been pounding Khadafy military and government positions with increasing vigor and the rebels are again on the move.
Khadafy’s power has been considerably degraded by the NATO attacks as well as by military and government defections. In London, Libyan analysts reported yesterday that Khadafy had lost another close official who defected and fled the country.
Sassi Garada, one of the first men to join Khadafy when he took power, left Libya through Tunisia, according to Noman Benotman, a Libyan analyst in London who was in contact with Garada’s friends and family. Guma el-Gamaty, British organizer for Libya’s interim council, also confirmed the defection.
There were initial reports that Garada fled to Britain, where he has several family members, but Benotman said Garada was in Switzerland. British and Swiss officials said they could not confirm his whereabouts.
Garada reportedly passed up several military promotions over the years to stay out of the limelight and serve Khadafy.
He is from Libya’s Berber minority, which has often fought the Arab majority to have their language and customs protected. Many Berbers occupy the Western mountains of Libya, where Garada had been in charge of trying to neutralize tensions, Gamaty said.
It is not known why Garada defected or when, but he is one in a growing list of senior officials who have fled the country, suggesting Khadafy may be losing his grip on power.
Last month, Shukri Ghanem, the Libyan oil minister and head of the National Oil Co., crossed into neighboring Tunisia.
Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, one of Khadafy’s earliest supporters; Interior Minister Abdel-Fatah Younes; Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former UN General Assembly president, also defected. A number of ambassadors and other diplomats also have resigned.
As the fighting raged, Khadafy was shown on Libyan television playing chess with the visiting Russian head of the World Chess Federation, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.