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Libyan Forces Bombard Cities as Allies Prepare for Summit

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who previously tried to play a mediating role, urged the Libyan leader to stand down. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Libyan forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi bombarded rebel-held cities in the west of the country as ministers from 22 nations prepared to meet in Rome to discuss ways to end the fighting.

The port of Misrata came under heavy fire from Qaddafi’s forces as an aid ship unloaded food and medicine and took aboard 800 people, including stranded migrants and 50 wounded civilians, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The IOM team leader on the scene reported that hundreds of Libyan civilians had sought to board the ship in desperation to leave the besieged city. “With a limited capacity, the ramp of the boat had to be pulled up so that the ship could pull away from the dock in safety,” according to an e-mail from an IOM official, Jean-Philippe Chauzy.

Foreign ministers from the Libya Contact Group, which represents NATO members and other allies, are set to meet in Italy tomorrow to discuss the country’s political future and a possible peace plan from Turkey. In New York, the International Criminal Court prosecutor said he will seek arrest warrants for three top Qaddafi regime officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“What needs to happen now is for Qaddafi to immediately withdraw from power and to bring to pass his historical, human and moral responsibility,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul yesterday.

Oil Falls

The insurgency since mid-February in Libya, which has Africa’s biggest proven crude reserves, has helped push oil prices up by nearly a third. Crude oil for June delivery fell $2.16, or 2 percent, to $108.89 at 12:35 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after the U.S. Energy Department reported crude stockpiles at the highest level since October.

One of the aims of the allies is to pressure Qaddafi to step down and allow a peaceful transition to democracy, Rasmussen said.

“The nature of the conflict has changed significantly in a month, but what has not changed and will not change is the resolve of NATO and our partners,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters today in Brussels. “It is hard to imagine that the attacks against civilians in Libya will cease as long as Qaddafi remains in power.”

Allies Talk

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani will co-chair the talks in Rome tomorrow. Representatives of Libya’s Transitional National Council, the interim authority set up by the rebels in the eastern city of Benghazi, also are set to attend.

One of the initiatives to be discussed is a plan to set up a financial mechanism to support the rebel council, Bernard Valero, spokesman for the French Foreign Minister, said in e-mailed comments.

In New York, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said he will seek arrest warrants for three members of Qaddafi’s regime who “appear to bear the greatest criminal responsibility” for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Without specifying Qaddafi by name, Argentine lawyer Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the UN Security Council that he wants to hold accountable “those who ordered, incited, financed or otherwise planned the commission of the alleged crimes.”

Crimes, Repression

He cited evidence of murder, rape, torture, unlawful imprisonment and deportation, as well as a government effort to cover up the alleged crimes. The Qaddafi regime began planning its repression of anti-government demonstrations before they started, after observing the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, he said.

Two explosions were heard in Tripoli early today, the Associated Press reported, attributing them to NATO air strikes. Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Arab, 29, and three of the leader’s grandchildren died when his Bab al-Aziziya compound in the capital was hit by missiles on April 30, according to the Libyan government.

Loyalist forces yesterday shelled the rebel-held town of Zintan, in the western mountains of the country, and fired rockets at a road to disrupt supplies being brought to nearby towns from the Tunisian border, the AP said.

Changing Tactics

Fighting also continued on the edges of the port city of Misrata, the main rebel stronghold in western Libya, which has been besieged by government troops for two months. NATO reported hitting three tanks and three ammunition depots near Misrata yesterday.

“The Qaddafi regime has changed its tactics, by hiding its military units in populated areas, by using human shields and in other ways,” Rasmussem said. “And of course we have had to adapt our tactics as well. It’s a more challenging task now than right at the beginning, but we are making steady progress.”

Misrata’s port area was shelled by Qaddafi’s forces today, killing four, after the British-funded aid ship, Red Star One, docked there, the AP reported. The IOM said safety concerns after NATO intercepted an effort to mine the harbor delayed the ship’s arrival for five days.

People weren’t able to reach the docked ship for three hours because of the shelling, leaving less than an hour to board as many people as could be processed before departing for the rebel-controlled city of Benghazi, the IOM said in a statement.

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