US, Russia clash over bombing raids in Libya
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Last Updated: Wednesday, March 23, 2011, 00:13
Moscow: Russia and the United States on Tuesday clashed over Western bombing raids in Libya, with the US defense chief saying Moscow had accepted Muammar Gaddafi's "lies" about civilian casualties.

In a visit dominated by tensions over the Libya conflict, Gates defended the air strikes against Gaddafi's regime even as he predicted that the bombing would be scaled back within days once anti-aircraft systems are taken out.

As Gates sat grim-faced next to him, Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov called for an immediate ceasefire in Libya and charged coalition forces with killing civilians in their bombing campaign.

He said civilian deaths "shouldn't have been let to happen and we informed our US counterparts of our opposition".

Gates, however, said international forces were careful to avoid risking civilian lives and that most targets in the strikes were located well away from cities and towns.

He later told reporters travelling with him that nearly all civilian casualties in the fighting had been caused by Gaddafi's forces and questioned Moscow's "tone".

"It's almost as though some people here are taking at face value Gaddafi's claims about the number of civilian casualties, which as far as I'm concerned is just outright lies," he said.

Russia abstained from last week's UN Security Council vote approving international armed intervention in Libya, which aims to protect civilians against Gaddafi's forces.

US officials were grateful Russia chose not to block military action, but Moscow appeared increasingly uncomfortable as US and European forces pounded regime targets for a fourth day.

Russia's tougher stance on Libya came amid signs of strain in the coalition of countries backing the intervention, with Britain, France and the United States trying to shore up Arab support.

Gates arrived in Moscow a day after furious comments from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who compared the UN resolution that allowed air strikes on Libya to a medieval call to a crusade.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev later tried to water down Putin's outburst, saying Moscow could help mediate an end to the conflict while voicing disapproval of Kadhafi's actions.

Asked if he thought Serdyukov was backing Putin's line or Medvedev's stance, Gates said "he threaded his way pretty well between them", and added: "But it sounded to me like his comments were closer to President Medvedev."

While dismissing Moscow's criticism, Gates said he told his Russian counterpart that bombing raids would likely be scaled down within a "few" days as air defence sites are knocked out.


First Published: Wednesday, March 23, 2011, 00:13

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