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NATO strikes Tripoli after Zuma ends peace mission

NATO pounded Libya's capital on Tuesday, only hours after South Africa's president left following talks that produced only a commitment to a peace plan already rejected by the military alliance and rebels

AFP , Tuesday 31 May 2011
Libya
A drawing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is seen on a wall in Benghazi, Monday, (Reuters).
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South Africa called for an immediate ceasefire and "a dialogue to a democratic transition" a day after its president, Jacob Zuma, failed to close the gap between Libyan leader Muamer Gaddafi and rebels fighting to oust him.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini arrived in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to open a new consulate, in another blow to the Gaddafi regime after NATO insisted the Libyan leader's "reign of terror" is nearing an end.

Only hours after Zuma left Tripoli, NATO launced a fresh round of air strikes against targets in the Libyan capital, the suburb of Tajura and Al-Jafra, a city to the south, Libyan state television reported.

The report on Jamahiriya TV cited a military source as saying "NATO colonialist crusaders" had targeted military and civilian sites in Tripoli and Tajura, causing deaths and damage.

From the centre of Tripoli, which NATO has been attacking for several weeks now, an AFP correspondent reported warplanes flying overhead and distant explosions around midnight local time (2200 GMT).

In its latest operational update, NATO said Tuesday that it struck four military site in the vicinity of Tripoli, including missile launchers, a vehicle storage facility and a radar.
Elsewhere it took out a command and control node and several tanks, truck-mounted guns and other military vehicles in and around Misrata, the main rebel-held city in western Libya.

Zuma said raids by NATO, which is enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and protecting civilians from a government crackdown under a UN mandate, were undermining African mediation efforts.

South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane called for an immediate ceasefire on Tuesday, after Zuma had left Tripoli saying Gaddafi was "ready" to implement an African Union peace plan already rejected by NATO and the rebels.

"Consistent with the decision of the AU on Libya, we reiterate our call for immediate ceasefire that is verifiable and encourage the warring parties to begin a dialogue to a democratic transition," she told parliament.

"We strongly still believe that there is no solution for the Libyan problem that will come militarily but only with political dialogue," she added.

Before he left Tripoli, Zuma said Gaddafi was "ready to implement the roadmap of the AU" and that he had insisted "all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves" to determine the country's future.

However the South African leader did not publicly discuss the key obstacle, Gaddafi's departure, which the rebels insisted on as the starting point to any ceasefire agreement.

Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 migrants -- including 130 women and about 40 children -- escaping fighting in Libya arrived Tuesday by fishing boat in Pozzallo, near Ragusa, at Sicily's southern-most point, the Italian coast guard said.

In the Italian capital on Monday, five generals, two colonels and a major announced they had defected from Gaddafi's forces, and said the regime's army was now at 20-percent capacity.

Abdel Rahman Shalgham, a former foreign minister who was Tripoli's UN representative before switching sides, told a press conference: "These officers are among 120 who left Gaddafi and Libya over the last few days.

"We hope more will join us and the Libyan people, and leave the side of this despot and criminal," he said.

At a meeting of NATO's parliamentary assembly in Bulgaria, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted: "Gaddafi's reign of terror is coming to an end.
"He is increasingly isolated at home and abroad. Even those closest to him are departing, defecting or deserting... It is time for Gaddafi to go as well," Rasmussen said.

In Rome, Libyan General Salah Giuma Yahmed said the ongoing defections meant Gaddafi's forces could no longer prop up the regime.
"NATO forces are paralysing Gaddafi's troops, they are now running at about 20 percent of their military capacity," he told reporters.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who heads the rebels' provisional government, has welcomed a call by G8 world powers for Gaddafi to stand down, saying it was the position reflective of the "will of the international community as well as the demands and aspirations of the Libyan people."

The rebel leaders, called the National Transitional Council, announced Monday that they had renamed their armed forces the National Liberation Army.
Meanwhile, the rebels also launched their first television channel, Al-Hurra, broadcasting for four hours on Monday night from their eastern stronghold of Benghazi.

"This is a historic moment, we had plenty of obstacles," Al-Hurra chief Zuheir Al-Barasi told AFP, adding the station is funded by Libyan and foreign businessmen and run by volunteers.

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