Nato strikes hit Libyan government
Latest strikes on Tripoli come just hours after international criminal court seeks arrest warrant for Muammar Gaddafi
Nato air strikes have hit two Libyan government buildings in the capital of Tripoli, including the interior ministry, setting them on fire.
The attack prompted a government spokesman to suggest the ministry, which is responsible for internal security, was targeted because it contained files on corruption cases against senior members of the Benghazi-based rebel leadership.
The latest strikes on Gaddafi's stronghold came just hours after the international criminal court's (ICC) chief prosecutor sought arrest warrants for the Libyan leader, his son and the country's intelligence chief for authorising the killing of civilians in a crackdown on anti-government rebels. Gaddafi's government has denied the allegations.
The move by the Netherlands-based court was its first one linked to the Arab uprisings. It opened another potential front against Gaddafi's regime even as the autocratic leader stands firm against widening Nato air strikes and rebels with growing international backing.
A Libyan government spokesman appealed for a ceasefire and said authorities were likely to release four foreign reporters after they faced trial in an administrative court, expected later on Tuesday.
Nato has increased strikes on the capital in an apparent attempt to weaken Gaddafi's main stronghold and potentially target the leader himself.
Government escorts took reporters to the site of the air strikes. Smoke and flames engulfed the top floors of the interior ministry building as dozens of young men, many armed with assault rifles, milled outside the shuttered gate. Some carried a life-sized portrait of Gaddafi, danced before the burning building and chanted: "The revolution will continue!"
Nearby, black smoke poured out of a complex that officials said included offices used by authorities overseeing corruption cases. Soldiers collected half-burnt papers strewn amid the glass and metal as firefighters doused the flames.
Moussa Ibrahim, the Libyan spokesman, suggested the ministry was targeted because it contained files on rebel leaders in Benghazi, the de-facto capital of the eastern half of the country, which is under opposition control.
"If they [Nato] are really interested in protecting civilians ... then we call upon them to stop, and start talking to us," Ibrahim said.
After the air strikes, sporadic gunfire could be heard near the Tripoli hotel where foreign reporters are staying. Police closed off a road nearby but the reason for the gunfire wasn't clear.
Libyan TV said Nato air strikes also hit Tajoura, a neighbourhood in Tripoli, and Zawiya, about 30 miles (50km) west of the capital. State TV said a number of people were killed and wounded. It did not elaborate.
At least three explosions believed to be caused by Nato strikes shook windows around the Libyan capital late on Monday. It was not immediately clear what was targeted, but Ibrahim said he believed the jets were aiming for Gaddafi's compound.
The international warrants could further isolate Gaddafi and his inner circle and potentially complicate the options for a negotiated settlement. But they could also harden Gaddafi's resolve to fight, since the legal action has been seen in Libya as giving Nato more justification to target him.
Because the UN security council ordered the ICC investigation, UN member states would be obliged to arrest him if he entered their territory.
In the Netherlands, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he was seeking warrants against Gaddafi, his son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and intelligence chief Abdullah Sanoussi for ordering, planning and participating in illegal attacks. The younger Gaddafi has become one of the public faces of the regime through frequent interviews with the media.
Moreno-Ocampo said he had evidence that Gaddafi's forces attacked civilians in their homes, shot at demonstrators with live ammunition, shelled funeral processions and deployed snipers to kill people leaving mosques. Judges must now evaluate the evidence before deciding whether to confirm the charges and issue international arrest warrants.
In Benghazi, rebel spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga said that while the rebels welcomed the case they would like to see Gaddafi tried first in Libya, then before the ICC.
Under Gaddafi's more than four decades in power, the regime "has committed many crimes against the Libyan people, and the Libyan people want to see him punished for that", Ghoga said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds