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Libyan capital buffeted by airstrikes, protests

By Diaa Hadid

Associated Press

Published: Friday, May 13 2011 5:45 a.m. MDT

In this image made from Libyan TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi holds a meeting with tribal leaders from eastern Libya, in Tripoli, Libya, Wednesday, May 11, 2011.

Libyan TV via APTN) TV OUT LIBYA OUT, AP Photo

TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO launched more airstrikes Friday in Tripoli as Moammar Gadhafi's regime faced open defiance on the ground, with activists reporting gunfights between protesters and soldiers in several of the capital's neighborhoods.

The protests, coupled with worsening shortages of fuel and other goods, have prompted Gadhafi's rebel opponents to predict that his hold on the capital may be in jeopardy.

The sound of two airstrikes could be heard in Tripoli early Friday, though it was not immediately clear what they targeted.

On Thursday, Gadhafi's fortified compound in the capital was among the targets as NATO carried out 52 strike missions across Libya. Other targets included anti-aircraft missile launchers near Tripoli and several buildings and gun emplacements being used by regime forces in their siege of the rebel-held port city of Misrata.

Diplomatic pressure also ratcheted up. In Washington, a rebel delegation was meeting Friday with officials at the White House. And in the Hague, Netherlands, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said he would seek arrest warrants on Monday for three senior Libyan leaders for murder and persecution — with Gadhafi expected to be among them.

An anti-government activist in Tripoli, interviewed Friday, said protests have occurred this week in at least three neighborhoods in the city, accompanied by exchanges of gunfire between opposition activists and Gadhafi forces.

In one neighborhood, Fashloum, the activist said he saw soldiers flooding the area and patrolling the streets in vehicles. He said he did not personally see a demonstration there but heard from other activists that there was a brief gunbattle.

The crackle of gunfire could be heard in a separate neighborhood close to a hotel where foreign reporters reside.

The activist's report echoed those made earlier to The Associated Press by a local journalist and resident on Thursday. All spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals.

Reporters cannot independently confirm the information because they may not leave their Tripoli hotel without government minders.

When residents of Tripoli tried to protest Gadhafi earlier in the uprising, gunmen in speeding cars tore through and fired wildly into the crowds, making many fearful to go out in the streets and demonstrate.

The activist said residents are deeply frustrated by a severe fuel shortage that forces some motorists to spend up to three days in line at gas stations. Such lines are visible to reporters when they are shipped around on buses.

He added there were severe shortages in medicine, and the price of some basic foods had doubled or tripled. The activist said a certain cholesterol medicine was no longer available in Tripoli, and asthma medicine had doubled in price to 60 Libyan dinars ($50). He said the price of vegetable oil quadrupled from less than 1 dinar to 4 (81 cents to $3.30), and the price of pasta also rose from half a dinar to 2 dinars (40 cents to $1.60).

The head of the rebels' transitional government, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said during a high-level visit to London this week that Gadhafi opponents in Tripoli were in the process of acquiring weapons and predicted they would eventually contest regime forces in the capital.

The rebels control most of eastern Libya, while Gadhafi controls most of the west, including Tripoli. Misrata — about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli — is the only rebel stronghold in the west. Local doctors say more than 1,000 of its residents have been killed in the fighting and shelling during the siege by Gadhafi's forces.

The International Organization for Migration said Friday is has been airlifting hundreds of migrants who had fled Libya and were stranded in remote areas in Northern Chad. The IOM said more than 1,500 migrants had been flown to the Chadian cities of Abeche or N'Djamena, where medical care is available.

Since the start of the Libyan conflict, more than 23,500 migrants, mainly Chadians, have arrived in the northern Chadian towns of Faya and Kalait after a grueling journey across the Sahara in open trucks with minimal food and water, the IOM said.

In all, the IOM said, about 770,000 migrants and Libyans have fled into Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, Tunisia and Sudan or crossed the Mediterranean to reach Italy and Malta since mid-February.

In Geneva, the U.N. refugee agency said three men have been found in a Tunisian refugee camp who survived a harrowing odyssey from Libya resulted in dozens of deaths from thirst and starvation.

Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the men's account to aid workers confirms that the vessel carrying sub-Saharan migrants from Libya to Italy encountered military units who refused to help.

She says 63 of the 72 people on board died, including all the women and children.

UNHCR estimates 1,200 people have perished trying to flee Libya.

Associated Press writer Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.

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