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Gaddafi makes first television appearance in two weeks

Muammar Gaddafi’s appearance follows rumours he may have been killed or injured in NATO air strikes and comes after rebels in Misrata claim to have taken control of the airport.

Image: YouTube

LIBYAN LEADER MUAMMAR Gaddafi has made his first TV appearance since the 30 April NATO attack on his sprawling compound which killed one of his sons. The brief TV appearance seemed designed to quash the rumours that he had been hit by the bombing.

Libyan TV showed Gaddafi meeting tribal leaders, but did not record him speaking.

To authenticate the scene, the camera zoomed in on the date on a TV monitor in the room, and it read Wednesday, 11 May. It was apparently recorded at the hotel where foreign correspondents must reside in Tripoli. Gaddafi did not make himself available to them.

The last time Gaddafi had been seen in public was 9 April, when he visited a school in Tripoli.

According to the Libyan state news agency, JANA, one of the NATO strikes hit the North Korean Embassy in the capital, Tripoli. JANA said the mission was badly damaged by fragments of a NATO missile fired on Monday.

Even though some of the recent reports of ground combat are difficult to confirm, they seem to represent a major boost for the rebels’ military prospects after weeks of stalemate on several fronts.

Rebels claim airport control

According to a rebel who identified himself as Abdel Salam, rebels were in total control of the airport in Misrata’s southern outskirts after two days of fighting. He said five rebels were killed and 105 injured.

He said rebels are also pushing west from Misrata, toward the nearby city of Zlitan, hoping to then advance farther toward Tripoli.

“This is a major victory,” Abdel Salam said. “The Gaddafi forces have been suffering lack of supplies … Their morale was very low after being defeated several times and pushed back.”

The rebels control most of eastern Libya, but Misrata — about 200km 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.

In Tripoli, a government spokesman denied the Misrata rebels’ claims of success. ”This is nonsense,” said Moussa Ibrahim. “We control the airport and we also control the sea port.”

Access to the port has been limited but not halted. The International Committee of the Red Cross has a chartered ship floating in the harbour which delivered medical supplies and baby food on Tuesday and is now being used to support ICRC work in the city.

Ibrahim did acknowledge that the war was creating severe shortages of many commodities in Tripoli.

“The NATO airstrikes and the sea embargo … are badly influencing the lives of daily Libyans,” he said. “We have some shortages in fuel, food and medicine. It makes it difficult to go to schools, hospitals and factories.”

There was evidence of Tripoli’s economic plight at its colorful Abu Salim market — the largest in the capital. While residents strolled through the displays of bejeweled robes and glittery shoes, traders said the number of customers had fallen drastically since the conflict began in mid-February.

“In normal times, you wouldn’t have space to move,” said a trader who requested anonymity, fearing disapproval from Libyan authorities.

The trader said fuel shortages, a slowdown of goods arriving by sea, and the dwindling value of the Libyan dinar had pushed up prices for many goods — more than doubling in some cases.

He said most of the customers in the bazaar were young women and their mothers, looking to buy new clothes — a tradition of brides before they marry. “They have no choice — they have to do it,” he said.

In Benghazi, the rebels’ headquarters city in eastern Libya, the opposition National Transitional Council received its highest-ranking foreign visitor Wednesday — Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.

He said the people of Poland and the European Union “wish victory to the Libyan people in making this transition to democracy.”

Sikorski recalled that Poles rid themselves of communist rule two decades ago.

“If we could have done it … so can you,” he said.

Sikorski refused to answer to questions about whether Poland will be sending arms to the rebels, who say they are outgunned by Gaddafi’s forces and can’t overthrow him without heavier weapons.

“In diplomacy, you don’t talk publicly about everything you discuss,” he told a news conference.

UN calls for ceasefire

In Geneva, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for “an immediate, verifiable ceasefire” in Libya, and said Gaddafi’s government had agreed to another visit by a special envoy.

Ban said he spoke with Libya’s prime minister by phone late Tuesday to urge a cease-fire and demand unimpeded access for UN humanitarian workers in Libya. He also called on Gaddafi’s forces to stop attacking civilians.

Ban said the prime minister, Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, agreed to receive a special UN envoy who would now travel to Tripoli to undertake “negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict and unimpeded access for humanitarian workers.”

- AP

Video uploaded by TheEmbatna

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