Tripoli bombed, Oil Minister leaves country

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Pressure piles on Qadhafi after Minister's defection

A security services building in Tripoli destroyed in the NATO bombardment on Tuesday.— Photo: AFP
A security services building in Tripoli destroyed in the NATO bombardment on Tuesday.— Photo: AFP

Pressure piled on Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi on Tuesday as his Oil Minister appeared to have defected, Moscow issued a rebuke, NATO jets pounded Tripoli and a leading prosecutor sought his arrest for crimes against humanity.

A Tunisian government source told AFP that Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem, a veteran of Mr. Qadhafi's regime, has left his country and is in neighbouring Tunisia.

Mr. Ghanem, also the chairman of Libya's powerful national oil company, crossed the border by car on Saturday and is staying in a hotel in the southern tourist island of Djerba, the official said on condition of anonymity.

If it is confirmed the Minister has left his post, he would be among the most senior officials to abandon Mr. Qadhafi's government amid an uprising that erupted in mid-February.

The former Foreign Minister, Mussa Kussa, defected to Britain in March, leaving Libya via Tunisia.

Moscow talks

In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he held talks on Tuesday with Mr. Qadhafi's envoys and had told Tripoli to obey the terms of U.N. resolutions on Libya.

Moscow, which has been strongly critical of the international campaign against Kadhafi's regime, had agreed to talk to both Mr. Qadhafi's envoys and rebels who had also planned to come to Moscow but had to delay their trip.

Overnight, air strikes by NATO set fire to two buildings near Mr. Qadhafi's compound in the Libyan capital, according to an AFP reporter who along with other journalists was taken by the Libyan authorities to the site, where firefighters battled the flames. Parts of Tripoli have been targeted almost daily by NATO-led strikes launched on March 19 after a U.N. resolution mandated a no-fly zone and called for the protection of civilians from Mr. Qadhafi's regime.

Britain, one of the main powers enforcing the no-fly zone, confirmed attacks overnight in Tripoli involving Tomahawk missiles and Royal Air Force Tornado aircraft which it said struck intelligence agency buildings and a military training base. — AFP

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