TRIPOLI (Reuters) – NATO air strikes hit Muammar Gaddafi’s compound Thursday, hours after the Libyan leader was shown on television for the first time since another aerial attack killed his son nearly two weeks ago.
Libyan officials who showed reporters around the scene of the air strike, at Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah compound, said three people had been killed and 25 wounded.
The corner of a two-storey building was blown away, leaving fragments of concrete on the street below. Deep craters were left in two other locations around the compound, which has been targeted several times since NATO began its campaign.
Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said the strikes hit near a spot where dozens of Libyans come every night, some with families, to shout slogans in support of Gaddafi. He denied the compound contained any military facilities.
“The NATO alliance is completely bereft of morality,” Ibrahim said. “No one has the right to say to the people of Libya move away from the cities so we can bombard you.”
“This is our country. We are proud of it. We will continue to be a fighting nation,” he told reporters.
An official at NATO headquarters said the target it hit overnight was a large command and control bunker complex.
“These locations were known to be command and control facilities engaged in coordinating attacks against civilian populations in Libya,” said the official.
“While the possibility of collateral damage will always exist, we go to great lengths to reduce such possibilities.”
Earlier, Gaddafi had drawn a line under nearly two weeks of speculation over his fate when Libyan television showed him meeting officials in a Tripoli hotel.
The Libyan leader had not been seen in public since an April 30 strike killed his youngest son and three grandchildren.
He made his appearance Wednesday in trademark brown robe, dark sunglasses and black hat. Gaddafi was shown greeting a group of tribal leaders who support him.
“You will be victorious,” an old man told Gaddafi.
GADDAFI HOLDING ON
Four months into a revolt against his rule, Gaddafi is still holding doggedly onto power despite weeks of NATO strikes on his military and command structures.
The conflict has now entered stalemate, with Gaddafi in control of most of the west of the country, while the rebels are hemmed in to their stronghold in the east and a few pockets in the west.
State television reported that the North Korean embassy in Tripoli had suffered major damage in the overnight NATO strikes.
The report is likely to revive uncomfortable memories for the alliance of an incident in 1999 when it bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during a campaign against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
But the NATO official said the North Korean embassy is 500 meters (yards) from the target it struck. “It has been alleged that NATO attacked the North Korean embassy; this is simply not true,” said the official.
The rebel leadership in the eastern city of Benghazi – having seen attempts to advance west on the capital bogged down in the desert — is now focusing on drumming up more international support.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council, met British Prime Minister David Cameron in London and received a pledge of help.
“The government is today inviting the council to establish a formal office here in London,” Cameron told reporters. “We will work with you to ensure that the international community increases the diplomatic, the economic and the military pressure on this bankrupt regime.”
Offering a glimmer of encouragement for Western governments which hope Gaddafi’s rule will collapse from within, Tripoli’s consul in Cairo said he was quitting his post to join rebel ranks.
He joined a string of senior Libyan officials who have broken ties with Gaddafi’s government.
REBEL GAIN IN MISRATA
Western governments say they are carrying out their military intervention in Libya to stop Gaddafi’s forces killing civilians who rose up against his rule in a rebellion which took its lead from uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.
Thousands of people have been killed since the revolt broke out against Gaddafi’s rule in late February.
Libyan officials deny killing civilians, saying instead they are fighting criminal armed gangs and al Qaeda militants. They say the NATO air strikes are an act of colonial aggression by countries that want to grab Libya’s oil wealth.
Rebels in the city of Misrata, their only major stronghold in the west of Libya, hailed an important victory Wednesday, saying they had seized the city airport from pro-Gaddafi forces.
The rebels said they had also seized large quantities of weapons and munitions. No independent verification of the rebels’ account was available.
Taking the airport would be a psychological boost for rebels who have been grimly defending the besieged city for weeks, but it was unlikely to change the military balance of power.
The city, Libya’s third largest, is still encircled by pro-Gaddafi forces and cut off from other rebel holdouts by thousands of kilometers of desert.
On another front in the rebels’ conflict with Gaddafi loyalists, in the barren Western mountains region south-west of Tripoli, anti-Gaddafi fighters are holding off attempts by loyalists to take their mountain-top positions.
A Reuters reporter in the town of Zintan said he heard planes flying overhead, and the an explosion to the south. That is the area where NATO aircraft have been targeting government weapons depots in the past few days.
(Reporting by Matt Robinson in Zintan, Mohammad Abbas in Benghazi, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Peter Griffiths and Stefano Ambrogiin London, Catherine Hornby in Rome and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; writing byChristian Lowe)
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