Fresh explosions rock Tripoli

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tripoli - Strong explosions ripped off the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Sunday night, although Libya announced a fresh ceasefire following Western powers' devastating strikes against it.

Anti-craft gunfire was heard in the city and smoke rose near Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's residence.

The latest blasts occurred after a Libyan military spokesperson said earlier on Sunday that a ceasefire would start from 9am local time (1900 GMT) in response to an African Union's call for stopping clashes. All army units across Libya were told to observe the ceasefire.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed the hope that the Libyan military would "keep its word" on the new ceasefire.

The Libyan military declared a ceasefire on Friday after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and authorised any necessary measures to protect Libyan civilians. But the ceasefire apparently wasn't strictly abided by.

The Libyan state TV reported Western warplanes bombed some areas in Tripoli on Sunday, showing footage of people injured by the air strikes.

Sporadic explosions and heavy gunfire also broke out in central Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in eastern Libya, at around 10pm (2000 GMT) on Sunday and lasted about 40 minutes.

Pentagon spokesperson Bill Gortney said the air raids launched by the coalition one day earlier had "significantly degraded" Libya's air defence capability.

Gortney said the coalition currently involved in the military operation against Libya, dubbed "Odyssey Dawn," includes the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Italy, Belgium and Qatar.

He said it was too early to tell the operation's timeline, but claiming Gaddafi currently was not on the target list of the military attacks.

The US Air Force Sunday dispatched three B-2 stealth bombers to attack a Libyan airfield by dropping 40 bombs.

At least 15 French planes were also involved in operations on Sunday, including airspace surveillance. 

They did not attack airborne or ground targets because they met no resistance, the French military said.

French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle moved out of the Toulon port in southern France, and was heading to waters closer to Libya.

The only serving French aircraft carrier, with over 20 warplanes and some 2 000 marines on board, would arrive at the destination near Libya between 36 and 48 hours.

Qatar has decided to participate in the military intervention by sending four warplanes.

French Defence Ministry spokesperson Laurent Teissiere described the decision as a "crucial point," saying "this illustrated Arabic participation into this operation."

On Saturday, some 20 French warplanes launched air strikes against Libya, destroying a number of armed vehicles of the Libyan military.

At least 64 Libyans were reported to have been killed and 150 others wounded in the actions, according to the Libyan authorities.

On Sunday, Gaddafi called the Western attacks as "a crusader war" against the Libyan people, saying the air strikes were "terrorist means." He vowed to snatch a victory over the Western forces, saying they would be defeated.

The coordinated attacks on Libya have also drawn criticism from the Arab League. "What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians," Arab League Chief Amr Moussa said.

Both Russia and China have expressed regret over the military actions, while the ad-hoc High-Level African Union Panel on Libya, which includes South Africa, has said it opposes any foreign military intervention in Libya.