A deadline for rebels in the besieged city of Misrata to lay down their arms in exchange for an amnesty expired overnight, with a Libyan minister claiming hundreds had surrendered.
AFP - A deadline for Libyan rebels defending the besieged city of Misrata to lay down their arms expired Wednesday, but a top minister said he hoped it would be extended after scores surrendered.
“I hope that the minister of justice will listen to our call to extend it at least for another day or two, because there are good signs among people there in Misrata,” deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim told reporters in Tripoli.
He claimed about 400 people had turned in their arms in the western port city that has been under siege from forces loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi for almost two months. But his comments could not be verified.
Kaim said the deadline to surrender in exchange for an amnesty expired at midnight Tuesday, but it has already been rejected by the rebels fighting to oust Kadhafi after more than 40 years in power in the north African nation.
With the Misrata airport in government hands, the rebels are entirely dependent on supply by sea. The port has been repeatedly shelled by Kadhafi’s forces and few vessels are docking, resulting in a worsening food shortage.
Although the city was calm, rebels were braced for new attacks by Kadhafi’s forces on the country’s third largest city, a day after shelling here killed 14 people.
The expiration of the deadline came after a car bomb near the rebel headquarters in their eastern stronghold of Benghazi wounded two people Tuesday and frayed nerves.
The explosion happened about 200 metres (yards) from the insurgents’ seafront headquarters.
“It was a car bomb,” rebel military spokesman Omar Ahmed Bani told AFP, while Libyan journalist Nasser Warfuli said at the scene that the vehicle was a white Chevrolet that blew up just before evening prayers.
“I was walking and everything exploded around me,” Mohamed Tosi, one of the two men injured, said from his sick bed at Al-Jalaa hospital, where the second injured man, also suffering from shrapnel wounds, was treated and discharged.
The blast sparked scenes of chaos as hundreds of men, many toting pistols or Kalashnikovs, milled around and climbed on top of the twisted metal of the car wreck to chant slogans against Kadhafi.
Several said they believed the blast, the first car bomb in Benghazi since the Libyan uprising started in mid-February, was the work of “Kadhafi cells.”
Benghazi was on the verge of being overrun by Kadhafi forces when Western warplanes began a bombing campaign on March 19 to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone to protect civilians.
But since then it has seen no fighting and the frontline between Kadhafi’s forces and the rebels now lies 160 kilometres (100 miles) to the south.
In the capital Tripoli three loud explosions were heard early Wednesday as jets flew overhead, days after Kadhafi narrowly escaped a NATO air strike that killed one of his sons.
Kadhafi however was in good health, deputy foreign minister Kaim said.
“He is very well,” Kaim said, adding he met on Tuesday with “a number of tribal leaders” ahead of a tribal meeting on Thursday and Friday.
Several kilometres away from Misrata fighting continued Tuesday in Al-Ghiran and Zawiat al-Mahjub near the airport, which rebels have been trying to capture from Kadhafi forces based there.
Medical sources in Libya’s shell-shocked third city said one person had been killed and 22 wounded by late afternoon.
Customers queueing outside a Misrata bakery on Tuesday put on a brave face just hours before the regime’s ultimatum expired.
“I’m not worried. Kadhafi won’t do anything,” said Abd al-Bari, a 20-year-old student. “He’s lying as usual. God willing, he will do nothing.”
But Bari expressed serious concern about the port. “If it’s blocked off, the boats that have been providing us with aid won’t come any more and then we will have really big problems,” he said.
The threat to Misrata’s maritime life line comes not only from Kadhafi’s rockets.
NATO forces were searching for a stray anti-ship mine laid last week, the alliance said. Four small boats were caught dropping three mines off the port, but only two were found and disarmed. However, NATO said the port is still open.
In Benghazi, the rebels issued a plea for an emergency credit line of up to $3 billion from the United States and the two European countries which have recognised them—France and Italy—ahead of a meeting in Rome of the International Contact Group on Libya.
“The liquidity that we have domestically most likely will carry us through three weeks, at the most four weeks,” said Ali Tarhoni, who holds the economy and oil portfolio in the rebel administration.
He said the three billion would enable the administration to keep afloat for three to four months.
The rebel leadership no longer wants Kadhafi’s frozen assets to be unfrozen and given to its administration, but for credit lines to be opened that would be secured by the countries where such assets are being held, he said.
Kadhafi’s frozen assets around the world amount to $165 billion, said Tarhoni.
The Rome meeting is aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict in Libya, amid a stalemate in the fighting and an escalating humanitarian crisis.
The International Contact Group talks will also discuss whether to arm the uprising against Kadhafi and how to finance the rebels, including through oil sales from eastern Libya on world markets.
But Tarhoni said significant exports were not on the cards any time soon. “The top priority is to protect the installations, not to produce,” he said.
Ahead of the Rome talks, NATO’s sole Muslim-majority member Turkey upped the pressure on Kadhafi, calling for the first time for the Libyan leader to stand down “without causing more bloodshed, tears and destruction.”
Date created : 2011-05-04