China says rebels “dialogue partner” as Misrata hit

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China lavished praise on the Libyan rebel council saying it had become an “important dialogue partner,” a shift that could complicate Muammar Gaddafi’s efforts to hold on to power.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made the comments as Gaddafi’s forces landed rockets in the rebel-held city of Misrata for the first time in several weeks.
“China sees you as an important dialogue partner,” Yang told Mahmoud Jibril, diplomatic chief of the National Transitional Council based in Benghazi in eastern Libya, during a visit to Beijing. The comments were published in a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website (www.mfa.gov.cn), Reuters reports.
“(The Council’s) representation has been growing stronger daily since its establishment, and it has step-by-step become an important domestic political force,” Yang said, adding China was worried about the Libyan people’s suffering.

In a sign of the increasing impact of the crisis on daily life, state media issued steps ordinary people should follow “to deal with the fuel shortage”.

It called on people to use public transport instead of cars, avoid using air conditioning when driving and stick to 90-100 kph as the ideal speed. It also asked Libyans to be patient when queuing at petrol stations.

At least three explosions were heard in Tripoli on Wednesday but it was not clear where or what caused them.

China, never very close to Gaddafi, hosted Libya’s Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi this month, but courting the rebels has marked a policy adjustment for China, which generally avoids entangling itself in other nations’ domestic affairs.

China’s reticence to fully back Western efforts to bring down Gaddafi is seen by analysts as one factor sustaining the Tripoli government’s defiance of a NATO military campaign.

At least eight European and Arab governments have said they recognise the rebel council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people. The Chinese shift could indicate it now sees Gaddafi’s days as numbered.

The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) — a Saudi-based grouping of 57 Muslim countries — said a delegation arrived on Wednesday to mediate. It would meet the rebels in Benghazi and Gaddafi officials in Tripoli, a statement said.

MISRATA ATTACK

No one was hurt in the Misrata attack, but it dampened the relative sense of security that had set in among residents who had believed the siege on their city was broken after rebels drove out loyalist forces in mid-May.
“Everyone is worried. We don’t know where to go anymore. Only when I die will I be safe,” said Mohammed Mabrouk, who lives near one of two houses hit by the rockets.

Two more landed in open areas.

Fighting has been largely on Misrata’s far western and eastern edges, where the rebel army is sustaining heavier casualties by the day from the better-equipped and better-trained government forces.

Rebels have been trying to advance west toward the town of Zlitan, where Gaddafi’s soldiers are imposing a tight siege. Libyan television said on Wednesday that “dozens” of people were killed in Zlitan after NATO naval ships shelled the town.

The report could not be independently verified because foreign reporters have been prevented from entering Zlitan.

NATO only comments on its Libya operations the day after.

If the Libyan television report is confirmed, it could further complicate the mission of the NATO-led military alliance, whose credibility has been questioned after it admitted on Sunday killing civilians in a Tripoli air strike.

A rebel spokesman called Mohammed told Reuters from Zlitan that NATO had been hitting government military targets in the town on an almost daily basis. He said Gaddafi’s soldiers used their artillery positions in Zlitan to fire salvoes toward Misrata.
“We hear the sound of artillery fire every night,” he said.

Four rebel fighters were killed and 60 others were wounded in fighting with government forces on Tuesday in Dafniya, which lies between Zlitan and Misrata. Eleven rebel fighters were killed there a day earlier.

Rebels have made slow progress since NATO countries joined their fight to overthrow Gaddafi in March but are now trying to inch towards Tripoli from Misrata, east of the capital, and from the Western Mountains region to its southwest.

The going is especially tough in Misrata.
“Gaddafi’s forces have moved forward about a kilometre,” Dr Mohammed Grigda said at the field hospital in Dafniya just outside Misrata.

It was impossible to verify the information but a Reuters reporter in Dafniya saw that rebel mortar positions had pulled back slightly.

U.S. SANCTIONS

Shelling by government forces positioned outside Misrata has been limited to neighbourhoods on the edge of the city. A child was killed and two others were wounded on Monday when a rocket exploded in a house near the port in the east.

In the Western Mountains, where the rebels made significant gains in recent weeks, NATO launched four air strikes on Tuesday against government forces outside the town of Nalut near the border with Tunisia, a rebel spokesman there said. Gaddafi’s soldiers fired 20 rockets into the town, but no one was hurt.

Gaddafi allies denounce the bombing campaign as a foreign attempt to force a change of government and seize the North African state’s oil. NATO states defend the operation as a U.N.-mandated mission to protect Libyan civilians.

NATO said on Sunday its strike destroyed a house in Tripoli. Libyan officials said nine civilians died. The Libyan government said on Monday that 19 people were killed in another air strike, raising more questions about the military mission.

Libyan officials say NATO forces have killed more than 700 civilians, but have not presented evidence of such large numbers of civilian deaths and NATO denies them.



In a further blow to Libya’s leaders, the United States on Tuesday blacklisted nine companies owned or controlled by Gaddafi’s government. The sanctions prohibit U.S. transactions with the companies, including the Arab Turkish Bank, North Africa International Bank and North Africa Commercial Bank.