The fight for Libya

Al Jazeera reports:

World powers meeting in London have agreed to set up a contact group to lead international efforts to map out Libya’s future, with the first meeting to take place in Qatar, Britain has said.

“Participants of the conference agreed to establish the Libya Contact Group,” said a statement issued by William Hague, the British foreign minister, who chaired the meeting of more than 40 countries plus the UN and NATO.

The group would provide “leadership and overall political direction to the international effort in close co-ordination with the UN, AU (African Union), Arab League, OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference) and EU (European Union) to support Libya”, the statement said.

Hague said that “Qatar has agreed to convene the first meeting of the group as soon as possible”.

After the first meeting in Doha, Qatar, the chairmanship will rotate between the countries of the region and beyond it, the statement said.

Following London talks, Hague held a news conference with Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister.

Qatar’s prime minister urged Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, to step down to halt bloodshed and said that he might only have a few days to negotiate an exit.

Al Jazeera reports:

Troops loyal to longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have shelled pro-democracy forces heading west on the main coastal highway, pushing them out of Bin Jawad, a small town around 150 kilometres east of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown.

The reversal on Tuesday for Libya’s nascent opposition came after their forces made a speedy, two-day advance from Ajdabiya.

Ajdabiya is a crossroads town that Gaddafi’s troops had held for two weeks before an international military intervention allowed pro-democracy fighters to take it back.

On Monday, the pro-democracy forces moved as far west as Nawfaliya, another small town around 20 kilometres past Bin Jawad, before making a hasty evening retreat in the face of artillery fire from Gaddafi’s troops.

A spokesman in the eastern opposition stronghold of Benghazi had announced earlier that day that Sirte itself had fallen, a rumour that turned out to be untrue.

The Guardian reports:

The US has been giving the impression that it has backed away from the bombing campaign in Libya. It has now emerged that while the initial intensity of the high-altitude air strikes and cruise missile attacks has diminished, the US has not let up. In a dramatic and significant escalation of the assault on Gaddafi’s forces, the US has deployed low-flying, heavily-armed aircraft against Libyan armour.

It is a deployment far removed from the initial concept of a “no-fly” zone.

The Pentagon has revealed that AC-130 gunships and A10 tankbusters, of the kind used in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been deployed in Libya. “We have employed A10s and AC-130s over the weekend,” Vice-Admiral Bill Gortney, said.

The aircraft are better suited than high-flying fighter bombers to attack targets in built-up areas without so much risk of civilian casualties, defence officials say.

However, their sheer firepower can lead to civilian deaths as their attacks on the Iraqi city of Falluja after the 2003 invasion of Iraq demonstrated.

On Sunday, The Guardian reported:

The Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signalled that Turkey is ready to act as a mediator to broker an early ceasefire in Libya, as he warned that a drawn-out conflict risked turning the country into a “second Iraq” or “another Afghanistan” with devastating repercussions both for Libya and the Nato states leading the intervention.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Erdogan said that talks were still under way with Muammar Gaddafi’s government and the Transitional National Council. He also revealed that Turkey is about to take over the running of the rebel-held Benghazi harbour and airport to facilitate humanitarian aid, in agreement with Nato.

Speaking in Istanbul at the weekend, Erdogan said Gaddafi had to “provide some confidence to Nato forces right now” on the ground if there was to be progress towards the ceasefire the Libyan leader wanted and an “end to the blood being spilled in Libya”.

Eman al-Obeidi, the woman who accused Gaddafi’s men of raping her, now faces criminal charges, according to the Libyan Government. A spokesman told Channel 4 News the “accuser was now the accused”.

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