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Libya capital shaken by fresh blasts

NATO warplanes launched intensive air raids on Tripoli.



Tripoli: NATO warplanes launched intensive air raids on Tripoli and its eastern suburbs, where several explosions were heard, a reporter and witnesses said.

Four blasts shook the Libyan capital at around 2:30 am (0030 GMT) Sunday, according to a journalist who was unable to identify the targets.

Earlier, two powerful but distant blasts were felt in the centre of the capital at around 6:30 pm (1630 GMT) Saturday, followed by several others a few minutes later.

Witnesses said the explosions came from Tajura, a suburb that has often been targeted by NATO since an international coalition began military operations against Libya on March 31 to stop strongman Moamer Gaddafi attacking civilians.

Residents of Tajura, most of whom support the rebels, said they were not sure what the raids had targeted but that they could see plumes of black smoke and that aircraft were still circling over the area.

British Foreign Minister William Hague on Saturday met leaders of rebels fighting to oust Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi after NATO deployed attack helicopters for the first time.

Russia`s top diplomat, meanwhile, warned that the NATO military operation in Libya was "sliding towards" a land campaign as warplanes again blasted the capital Tripoli.

"We are here today for one principal reason -- to show our support for the Libyan people and for the National Transitional Council, the legitimate representative of the Libyan people," Hague said in a statement.

Hague, accompanied by international development minister Andrew Mitchell, held talks with chief of the rebel National Transitional Council Mustafa al-Jalil.

He also toured Benghazi`s landmark seafront as well as a medical centre treating war wounded.

"Gaddafi should leave immediately," Hague said.

He told reporters Britain would also support demining efforts in Misrata, the main rebel-held city in western Libya, and deliver "more equipment, uniforms, bullet-proof jackets" to rebel fighters.

"We have no combat troops in Libya," he added.

But Britain, he said, would stand with the Libyan people "for as long as it takes."

"We could not and did not turn a blind eye when Gaddafi turned his forces against innocent civilians. For as long as Gaddafi continues to abuse his people, we will continue and intensify our efforts to stop him."

Hague`s trip to the rebel capital came just hours after British Apache helicopters attacked forces loyal to Gaddafi in their first operations as part of the NAT0 air campaign against the veteran strongman.

British Apache choppers and French Gazelles and Tigres were deployed, the two countries said.

Britain`s defence ministry said Apaches on Friday night attacked a radar station and a checkpoint operated by Kadhafi`s forces in the strategic oil town of Brega in eastern Libya.

A spokesman for France`s military chiefs, Thierry Brukhard, said the copters destroyed about 20 targets and drew light arms fire from forces on the ground but were not damaged.

In its latest operational update issued on Saturday, NATO said it had hit a military camp and three command and control nodes in and around Brega, 240 kilometres (150 miles) southwest of Benghazi.

"Attack helicopters under NATO command were used for the first time," the military alliance said in a statement that listed vehicles, military equipment and fielded forces as the targets struck.

The attacks were launched as part of the aerial campaign to protect Libyan civilians from Kadhafi`s forces in line with a UN resolution that barred ground troops.

"We welcome any action that could precipitate the end of (Moamer) Kadhafi`s regime," Jalil told reporters in Benghazi.

Moscow, which is calling for a negotiated solution to the conflict, expressed alarm as the NATO campaign entered a new phase.

"We consider that what is going on is either consciously or unconsciously sliding towards a land operation," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"That would be very deplorable," Lavrov, quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency, added in reference to France and Britain`s decision to deploy military helicopters in the Libya conflict.

NATO warplanes also launched intensive air raids on Tripoli and its eastern suburbs on Saturday, where several explosions were heard, an AFP reporter and witnesses said.

Two powerful but distant blasts were felt in the centre of the Libyan capital at around 6:30pm (1630 GMT), followed by several others a few minutes later.

Witnesses said the explosions came from Tajura, a suburb which has often been targeted by NATO since the start of its campaign to stop Gaddafi from attacking civilians.

Residents of Tajura, most of whom support the rebels, said they were not sure what the targets were but that they could see plumes of black smoke and said aircraft were still circling over the area.

Back in Benghazi, rebels said they are caring for the woman allegedly raped by soldiers loyal to Gaddafi and who fled to Qatar but was deported back to Benghazi earlier this week.

Bureau Report

From Zee News

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