Strong Explosions Rock Tripoli

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 10:20 pm (UTC-5)
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At least three suspected NATO air strikes hit targets in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, early Thursday while yet another high-ranking official fled the country and announced his defection from leader Moammar Gadhafi's embattled government.

Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem, one of the most prominent officials to have publicly broken with the Libyan strongman, said in Rome Wednesday that he left his job because the violence and killing in his homeland had become “unbearable.”

Italy's ANSA news agency quoted Ghanem as saying it had become impossible to work in such circumstances and that he had quit “to join young Libyans to fight for a democratic country.” Ghanem said he has not yet decided if he will join the anti-Gadhafi rebels.

Last month, Libyan officials denied reports Ghanem had defected in Tunisia, saying instead he was abroad on business. His announcement in Rome came two days after eight senior Libyan army officers held a news conference there saying they had abandoned Libyan government forces and urging fellow security officials to do the same.

Also Wednesday, a U.N. panel investigating the Libyan conflict said forces loyal to Mr. Gadhafi and anti-government rebels have both committed war crimes.

Three U.N.-appointed experts said in the report that the violations committed by pro-Gadhafi forces were severe enough to also constitute crimes against humanity. However, they said acts by opposition armed forces were not severe or widespread enough to be put in that category.

Last month, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Mr. Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and Intelligence Chief Abdullah al-Senoussi for alleged crimes against humanity. Libyan officials dismissed the ICC request, saying the court has no jurisdiction in the country.

The U.N. report came the same day that NATO extended its military mission in Libya for 90 days. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the move is meant to send a clear message to the Gadhafi government that the pressure to oust him will continue.

The current NATO operation, comprising of airstrikes and enforcement of a no-fly zone, would have ended in late June. The extension carries it to September.

Meanwhile, in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, a large explosion destroyed two cars outside a hotel used by foreign diplomats, journalists and opposition leaders. A rebel spokesman said Gadhafi loyalists had thrown a hand grenade under the cars in a “desperate attempt” to sow terror. There were no casualties.

U.S. State Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to the United Arab Emirates next week for a meeting of the 22-nation Libyan Contact Group. Earlier this month, the group agreed to set up a fund to help provide Libyan rebels with food, medicine and military supplies in the areas under their control.