(See EXTRA and MET for more on Middle East unrest.)
June 7 (Bloomberg) -- NATO jets conducted daytime strikes on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, as the alliance sought to step up pressure on Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, while Libyan state television broadcast his first words for more than three weeks.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization planes hit targets included command-and-control centers today, an alliance official said by phone from the mission headquarters in Naples, Italy. Low- flying aircraft carried out at least 27 strikes around Qaddafi’s compound, the Associated Press reported.
“We are steadily intensifying the military, economic and diplomatic pressure,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers in the House of Commons in London. “The Qaddafi regime is isolated and on the defensive.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday Qaddafi’s days in power were numbered after ruling Libya for 42 years. He urged world leaders to begin planning for the regime’s downfall. Qaddafi remains in control of Tripoli in the west even though rebels are running most of eastern Libya.
The Libyan leader expressed defiance in an audio broadcast on state television today, saying that “we are stronger than their missiles, stronger than their planes.”
Qaddafi called on Libyans to combat armed gangs and said “martyrdom is a million times better” than surrender. The comments were carried on Al Arabiya television. It was Qaddafi’s first broadcast since May 13, when he contradicted reports that he had been injured in NATO bombing.
Military commanders have increasingly focused attacks on the capital in the past few days, the NATO official said, declining to be identified in compliance with alliance policy. Royal Air Force planes struck Libya’s secret police headquarters and a major military installation on the outskirts of Tripoli yesterday and overnight, according to the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense.
Airstrikes in the past month have pushed Qaddafi loyalists out of the western port city of Misrata, which is in rebel hands, and aided some of their gains in the Berber highlands in the west. Jalal el-Gallal, a spokesman for the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said fighters “completely liberated” the western mountain town of Yefren yesterday.
Qaddafi has also been harried by defections. Libyan generals, two colonels and a major defected to rebel forces at the end of May, bringing the total of Libyan army officers who have left Qaddafi to 120, Libya’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Abdel Rahman Shalgham, said on May 30.
Hague said satellite broadcasters should stop transmitting Libyan state TV to further weaken the grip of the regime.
“On May 17, Arabsat joined European satellite companies in suspending Libyan state television broadcasts, a significant blow to Qaddafi’s ability to carry out psychological warfare,” Hague told lawmakers. “We press all satellite companies to take similar action.”
The Libyan leader may be stepping up efforts to find a settlement. Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati Al-Obeidi arrived in China today for a three-day visit, after China yesterday confirmed its diplomats had met with rebel leaders.
Al-Obeidi’s itinerary includes a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing today. Hong said yesterday that diplomats from the Chinese Embassy in Egypt recently met officials from the Libyan rebel Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi.
Oil fell to a two-week low on speculation that OPEC may raise output quotas when the group meets in Vienna tomorrow. Futures slipped as much as 1.3 percent after a Gulf delegate with knowledge of the matter said the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will increase output targets to help replace missing supplies from Libya and meet demand growth this year.
Crude for July delivery dropped $1, or 1 percent, to $98.01 a barrel at 9:58 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract touched $97.74, the lowest price since May 24. Oil is up 37 percent the past year.
Defense ministers from the 28-member alliance begin a two- day meeting tomorrow in Brussels and will discuss progress in the UN-mandated mission in Libya. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will make his final appearance before leaving office at the end of this month.
--With assistance from Caroline Alexander and Thomas Penny in London and Michael Forsythe in Beijing. Editors: Eddie Buckle, Heather Langan
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