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Libya

Pro-Kadhafi forces advance as London meet discusses Libya's future

Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly

Pro-Kadhafi forces swept through Libya's third city of Misrata, 214 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli, amid reports that at least 142 people have been wounded in the offensive on the city which began on 18 March. Elsewhere, forces loyal to Moamer Kadhafi pushed back rebels in the east to Nofilia, 60 kilometres from the Libyan leader's hometown of Sirte. 

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The rebels had made significant advances in the region after western strikes over the weekend, but heavy artillery fire from loyalists forced them to pull back.

World leaders gathered Tuesday in London for an international conference to map out Libya's future.

Ahead of the meeting, US President Barak Obama addressed the nation saying that his actions had stopped a massacre in Libya, but warned a military campaign to oust  Kadhafi could repeat the bloodshed and misery of Iraq.

Obama has faced increased criticism in recent days, especially from lawmakers who argued that they were not fully consulted on the no-fly operation in Libya.

The US president said he had no choice but to act with international partners after Kadhafi had rejected an offer to stop his campaign of killing and his forces surged towards the key city of Benghazi.

In London, more than 35 countries including Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco and the Arab League are meeting to map out a post-Kadhafi future. But Russia, whose foreign minister has said that the West's military action goes beyond the terms of the UN Security Council resolution, has not been invited.

Italy, Libya's former colonial master, appears to have taken Britain by surpise by saying it would present a plan to offer Kadhafi exile. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that while Kadhafi staying in power would no longer be acceptable "even in his regime there are people working from the inside for this solution".

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a joint call for Kadhafi to step down because his regime "had completely lost its legitimacy" and his followers should desert Kadhafi "before its too late".

Tension is rising on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa over the thousands of immigrants arriving from Libya. The island's reception centre for migrants, designed to hold 850 people, now has to deal with some 6,000 scattered across the island. Residents are blaming immigrants for recent crimes including an assault and a theft. They are also outraged that one hillside near the dock has been turned into an open toilet.

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