61 Libyan tribes call for Gaddafi to go

April 28, 2011 - 0:0

MISRATA, Libya (AFP) – Libya's tribes on Wednesday urged Muammar Gaddafi to cede power, as rebels backed by NATO air strikes said they forced the strongman's missiles out of range of the lifeline port of Misrata.

Chiefs or representatives of 61 tribes from across the North African country called for an end to Gaddafi's four-decade rule, in a joint statement released by French writer Bernard-Henri Levy.
“Faced with the threats weighing on the unity of our country, faced with the maneuvers and propaganda of the dictator and his family, we solemnly declare: Nothing will divide us,” said the text, drawn up in Benghazi on April 12.
“We share the same ideal of a free, democratic and united Libya,” it said.
The call came as rebels said they had managed to push back Gaddafi's forces and secure the port of besieged Misrata, a day after it came under sustained rocket fire.
The insurgents said NATO air raids overnight enabled them to force Gaddafi's troops 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the port of Misrata, which remains encircled by regime troops to the east, west and south.
That put Gaddafi's Grad rockets out of range of the port, an aid conduit for rebels in the western city of half a million people that has been under siege for more than seven weeks.
“Gaddafi's men are dead. There are still vehicles and burned bodies, and we seized many weapons,” said a leader of the rebel group, showing as examples a French-made Milan missile, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic guns.
On Tuesday, forces loyal to Gaddafi fired several Grad rockets at Misrata's port, killing at least three African refugees and forcing a humanitarian ship on a mission to rescue them to stay out to sea.
A NATO official said, meanwhile, that a fighter jet taking part in the military operations over Libya crashed on landing at an air base in Italy on Wednesday.
“An F-16 crashed on landing at Sigonella air base. The pilot ejected and his further condition is being assessed,” said the official, as Italy's ANSA news agency reported that the jet belonged to the United Arab Emirates.
British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said the rebels appeared to be gaining ground against Gaddafi, despite Tuesday's deadly attack by his forces on Misrata's port.
“We've seen some momentum gained in the last few days. We've seen some progress made in Misrata, and it's very clear that the regime is on the back foot,” British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said on Tuesday.
After talks at the Pentagon with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Fox painted an optimistic picture of the conflict despite fears the war could turn into a stalemate.
Speaking to AFP before the rebels claimed they drove regime forces back from Misrata, the military spokesman in the rebels' eastern stronghold of Benghazi said Gaddafi was determined to destroy the port.
“This port is too much of a headache for Gaddafi so he wants to destroy it at whatever cost,” Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani, military spokesman of the Transitional National Council, told AFP.
Hitting Gaddafi's troops, he said, remained a challenge even for NATO's forces as loyalists were using civilian areas in the outskirts -- schools, shops and even farms -- to hide troops and weapons.
“It is still hard for NATO to catch them. Gaddafi is staying far from the centre because it is safe for him,” he said, warning that losing the port would be a “real disaster,” leaving civilians stranded without aid.
He warned Gaddafi could take “revenge” on the city that rose up against him on February 19, two days after Benghazi. “This is the culture of Gaddafi: revenge, revenge, revenge,” he said.
The African Union, meanwhile, urged an end to military actions targeting senior Libyan officials and key infrastructure, after Washington and London had said it was legitimate to strike Gaddafi's compound, as NATO did two days ago.
“Council urges all involved to refrain from actions, including military operations targeting Libyan senior officials and socio-economic infrastructure, that would further compound the situation and make it more difficult to achieve international consensus on the best way forward,” the AU said.
Gaddafi's chief ally in Latin America, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, had previously accused NATO of trying to kill his “friend.”
Photo: Libyan rebels celebrate after seizing a vehicle belonging to Muammar Gaddafi forces in Misrata on April 27, 2011. (Getty Images)