Gaddafi forces pound rebels, as G8 stalls on no-fly

Gaddafi`s forces targeted Ajdabiyah, the last town before the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, with air strikes.

Cairo/Paris: Libyan forces on Tuesday raced
eastwards pounding rebel-held Ajdabiyah with aerial bombings
and artillery barrage as world powers differed over imposing a
`no fly` zone to halt Muammar Gaddafi`s all out assault on his
opponents.

Following a pattern, Gaddafi`s forces targeted
Ajdabiyah, the last town before the rebel stronghold of
Benghazi, with air strikes, artillery attacks and quick ground
assaults.

"Surrender or flee" was the tough message to the
rebels by the 68-year-old Libyan leader as his forces began
the final push to wrest back Benghazi and Tobruk.

But the outgunned rebels have marshalled all their
forces numbering up to 10,000 for the defence of the twin
major ports of Benghazi and Tobruk, which provide Libya with
crucial road links to Egypt, Al-Jazeera reported.

In Paris, Foreign Ministers of G-8 nations failed to
arrive at a consensus on clamping a `no fly zone over Libya
which would enable US and Nato war planes to ground Gaddafi`s
air power, and the decision on this was left to the UN
Security Council.

A closing statement read out by French Foreign
Minister Alain Juppe made no mention of French and British
proposal for a `no fly` zone, an issue dealt with caution by
the US, Russia and the European Union.

Gaddafi, in an interview to an Italian daily,
described the rebellion against his 41-year rule as a "lost
cause" and also said he felt betrayed by his friends in
Europe.

"The rebels have no hope, it`s now a lost cause for
them. There are only possibilities: to surrender or run away,"
he was quoted as saying in the interview.

He ruled out any mediation between his regime and the
rebels, saying it was impossible to negotiated with
"terrorists".

He reiterated that the rebels were linked with Osama
bin Laden and the al Qaeda and were swaying a section of the
Libyan people while claiming that the majority backed him.

The Libyan despot also claimed that the international
community does not know what is really happening in Libya.
"The people are with me, the rest is propaganda."

Gaddafi has kept back his more formidable fighting
formations, including the 3,000-strong Revolutionary Guards
and heavily-armed Khamish brigade, as a reserve to fight back
any western attempt to intervene in the North African country.

As Gaddafi`s troops stepped up is offensive on the
rebels, the Obama administration today held its first
high-level talks with the Libyan opposition who have been
seeking formal support abroad and the imposition of a no-fly
zone.

US Secretary of State Hillary of Clinton, who was in
Paris for the G-8 meeting, met Mahmoud Jibril, a leader of the
opposition National Council in Libya, at a hotel in the French
capital for 45 minutes and discussed ways through which the US
could assist beyond humanitarian aid.

During the "private and candid" conversation, the
top American diplomat stopped short of pledging Washington`s
support for military aid, but the US named Chris Stevens as
its special envoy to the council, sources said.

In Washington, US President Barack Obama issued a
fresh ultimatum to Gaddafi to leave as he has "lost
legitimacy".

"Mr Gaddafi has lost legitimacy and he needs to
leave," Obama said.

Earlier, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague
said the restive nation risks becoming a "pariah state" if
Gaddafi remains its leader.

"If Gaddafi went on to be able to dominate much of the
country, well this would be a long nightmare for the Libyan
people, and this would be a pariah state," he was quoted as
saying by the BBC.

According to UN estimates, over 1,000 people have been
killed since the uprising against Gaddafi`s 41 years rule
began on February 14. More than 200,000 people have fled the
country, most of them foreign workers.

Human Rights Watch said the Gaddafi regime had carried
out a wave of "arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances" in
the capital Tripoli.

The rights watchdog said Libyan authorities had
arrested scores of protesters and suspected government
critics, adding that some of them had been tortured.

Libyan government forces and rebels were also still
battling for the oil town of Brega. At one point, both sides
had simultaneously claimed control of the town.

In the west, Gaddafi`s forces had moved into the
rebel-held town of Zuwara and are shelling Misrata city.

Bin Jawad, Zawiyah and Ras Lanuf, which have been
recaptured by Gaddafi`s forces, looked like ghost towns as
their residents have fled and only Gaddafi`s men can be seen
there, media reports reaching here said.

The United Nations Security Council also took up the
contentious issue of a no-fly zone yesterday, but no decision
was reached.

The world body was divided on imposing a no-fly zone
over Libya, even though the Arab League has urgently called
for the measure after Gaddafi`s advancing army regained
control of some rebel-held towns.

"We would like the Council to act as swiftly as
possible and we would like a consensus on the no-fly zone,"
said Nawaf Salam, Lebanon`s envoy to the UN, who requested the
Council meeting on the matter.

Last month, the Security Council adopted a resolution
slapping sanctions on the Libyan regime, which included a
complete arms embargo, an asset freeze and a travel ban on
Gaddafi and his loyalists, and a referral to the Hague-based
International Criminal Court.

Even as G-8 nations failed to agree on military action
against Gadhafi`s forces, the top diplomats the embattled
leader of "dire consequences" if he does not "respect the
legitimate claim of the Libyan people to fundamental rights.

The top diplomats called on the UN to increase
pressure on the Gaddafi regime, such as economic means.

G8 foreign ministers "agreed that the UN Security
Council should increase the pressure, including through
economic measures, for Muammar Gaddafi to leave", Juppe was
quoted as saying by BBC.

"We want to increase the pressure on Gaddafi, tighten
sanctions. There is common ground here in the G8 and while not
every nation sees eye-to-eye on issues such as the no-fly
zone, there is a common appetite to increase the pressure on
Gaddafi," Hague said.

Meanwhile, two powerful US senators have introduced a
resolution in the Congress urging Obama to immediately
recognise the Libyan opposition.

"The President should recognise Libya`s Transitional
National Council, which is based in Benghazi but
representative of communities across the country, as the sole
legitimate governing authority in Libya just as the
government of France has done," said Senator John McCain, who
co-authored the resolution with Senator Joseph Lieberman.

In the resolution, they also urged Obama to support a
proposed no-fly zone over Libya to protect the rebels.

"Gaddafi has forfeited the right to power through his
vicious actions; we must recognize the opposition government,"
he argued, demanding that Obama should take immediate steps to
implement a no-fly zone in Libya with international support.

McCain asserted that if Gaddafi is allowed to prevail
in Libya and crush his opponents, it will send a signal
throughout the region that force is the way to respond to
peaceful demands for a better life and it will cause all of
our expressions of support for the universal rights of all
people to ring far hollower.

PTI