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Libyan students chant pro-Gaddafi slogans outside a damaged university building in Tripoli, Libya, today. Ivan Sekretarev/AP/Press Association Images
Human Shields

Gaddafi accused of using children's parks as shields

NATO claims the Libyan leader has been using mosques and children’s parks to protect his military operations from attack.

NATO TODAY ACCUSED Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi of using mosques and children’s parks as shields for his military operations, saying the longtime ruler who lashed out against alliance airstrikes is the one “brutally attacking the Libyan people.”

Hours later, at least two explosions shook Tripoli as NATO jets soared above the capital. It was not immediately clear what had been hit or if there were casualties in the late afternoon raid.

“NATO will be defeated”

In a telephone call piped through loudspeakers to a few thousand people demonstrating in Tripoli’s Green Square yesterday, Gaddafi railed against NATO following a day of intensified bombing runs in the capital. NATO’s mandate is to protect civilians amid a four-month uprising that has devolved into a civil war.

“NATO will be defeated,” Gaddafi yelled in a hoarse, agitated voice to the crowd. “They will pull out in defeat.”

In Brussels on Saturday, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu dismissed Gaddafi’s speech as “outrageous.”

“We are saving countless lives every day across the country,” she said. “We are conducting operations with utmost care and precision to avoid civilian casualties. Civilian casualties figures mentioned by the Libyan regime are pure propaganda.”

She also accused Gaddafi and his regime of “systematically and brutally attacking the Libyan people,” saying government forces “have been shelling cities, mining ports and using mosques and children’s parks as shields.”

NATO raids

NATO has been ramping up the pressure on Gaddafi’s more than four-decade-old regime. Though most airstrikes happen under cover of darkness, daytime raids have grown more frequent.

Lungescu’s comments also counter allegations from Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, who accused NATO yesterday of a “new level of aggression” and said the military alliance has intentionally targeted civilian buildings in recent days, including a hotel and a university.

“It has become clear to us that NATO has moved on to deliberately hitting civilian buildings. … This is a crime against humanity,” he told reporters in the capital.

Defence officials in London on Saturday gave details of British air strikes over the previous two days, indicating an upswing in fighting along the Tunisian border in the far west. Major General Nick Pope, chief of the Defence Staff’s Communications Office, said British fighter jets destroyed three armed Libyan trucks and badly damaged a fourth in the mountainous region around the rebel-held city of Nalut.

Libya’s Health Ministry released new casualty figures that put the number of civilians killed in NATO airstrikes through June 7 at 856. There was no way to independently verify the figure and previous government-announced tolls from individual strikes have proven to be exaggerated.

A coalition including France, Britain and the US launched the first strikes against Gaddafi’s forces under a UN resolution to protect civilians on 19 March. NATO, which is joined by a number of Arab allies, assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on 31 March.

- AP

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