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Libya

Kadhafi forces advance as debate over arming rebels rages

Reuters/Toby Melville

Forces backing Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi seized control of the oil town of Ras Lanuf Wednesday, as foreign powers argued over whether to supply arms to his opponents.

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Hundreds of rebels fled Ras Lanuf Wednesday morning as pro-Kadhafi soldiers used tanks and heavy artillery to seize the port city. Some of them called on France to bomb their opponents and called on foreign powers to send them arms.

"Our main problem in Misrata is snipers," rebel fighter Muhammad told RFI on Wednesday. "They are on the top of some buildings in Misrata, and they are shooting the people – killing everybody they can reach. Yesterday we had over 18 people killed in Misrata, 15 of them were civilians. 15 of them out of 18 were civilians. More than 40 people were wounded or injured in Misrata, we’re now 20 days without water. So really the situation is very, very bad."

But China’s President Hu Jintao told France’s Nicolas Sarkozy that the current air strikes could violate the “original intention” of the UN Security Council resolution authorising action to prevent attacks on civilians.

The warning came at the start of Sarkozy’s brief tour of Asia, which will include a stop-over in Japan and a G20 meeting on monetary reform.

Divisions deepened Wednesdy after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an international conference in London that arming the Libyan insurgents would probably not be illegal under international law.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppé said that Paris is ready to discuss the issue, while British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday said that the move could not be ruled out.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow believes that the latest UN resolutions do not give a mandate for the action, while Belgium’s Steven Vanackere declared that it “would cost us the support of the Arab world”.

THE BATTLE FOR LIBYA

Italian officials said that arming rebels would be an “extreme” measure. It “could divide the international community”, foreign ministry official Maurizio Massari said Wednesday.

In Benghazi a representative of the rebel Transitional National Council, Mustafa Ghuriani, told reporters that unspecified “friendly nations” were backing the insurgents but refused to confirm or deny that France and the US were offering to supply arms.

Britain has announced the expulsion of five Libyan diplomats for allegedly intimidating opposition groups.

Despite the differences, Organisation of the Islamic Conference representative Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu declared the London conference “very successful”.

"The political process should be led by the Libyan people themselves. We have just to help them," he told RFI.
 

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