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Powerful explosions from a deadly NATO raid shook the Libyan capital Tripoli early Tuesday, killing at least three

Russia accused NATO of exceeding the UN mandate

Three Libyans killed, 150 wounded following powerful explosions from deadly NATO raid that shook Tripoli.



By Imed Lamloum - TRIPOLI

people and wounding another 150, a government spokesman said.

Mussa Ibrahim told reporters that NATO had carried out "between 12 and 18 raids on a barracks of the people's guard," volunteer units who back up the army, and that most of the victims were civilians living nearby.

At around 1:00 am (2300 GMT Monday) five powerful blasts were heard in the sector around embattled leader Moamer Gathafi's Bab al-Aziziya residence, preceded by a whistling noise and the formation of red balls in the sky, a witness said.

Half an hour, later strikes were continuing, with the sound of warplanes roaring overhead and about 15 explosions in the pre-dawn raid, the most intense strike since the start of NATO operations against his regime.

On Monday, Washington urged Gathafi to leave Libya as its most senior envoy to date held talks in the rebel capital and the West decided to send strike helicopters into the battle against his regime.

In another boost to forces fighting to oust the strongman, France said it would provide helicopters for NATO's air campaign along with Britain, and the EU widened sanctions against Gathafi's forces.

"The United States remains committed to protecting Libyan civilians and believes that Gathafi must leave power and Libya," said the US representative's office to the rebels' National Transitional Council.

Washington's call came a day after the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, opened an EU office in Benghazi and declared the 27-member bloc's "long-term support" to the rebels.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman was in Benghazi for talks with the rebel leadership in a three-day visit that the US office called "another signal of the US's support for the NTC, a legitimate and credible interlocutor for the Libyan people."

Britain, France, Gambia, Italy and Qatar have already recognised the rebel council as their sole interlocutor in Libya.

The European bloc's foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss the Libyan stalemate as divisions emerge over an exit strategy.

Increasing the military pressures, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe announced his country will provide helicopters to boost NATO's air campaign.

The EU also tightened the screws on Gathafi.

An EU assets freeze and travel ban against Gathafi loyalists and firms suspected of propping up the regime was extended to a member of the Libyan leader's inner circle and a Libyan airline, an EU diplomat said, on condition of anonymity.

In another bonus for the rebels, EU ministers termed the NTC "a key political interlocutor representing the aspirations of the Libyan people."

Rebels took their diplomatic offensive to Turkey, NATO's sole Muslim member, where the head of the rebel council Mustafa Abdul Jalil met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"There is no room any more in Libya for the old administration," said Turkish President Abdullah Gul after talks with Jalil, the country's Anatolia news agency reported.

Ankara has toughened its tone after initially criticising the US-led air strikes on Libya launched on March 19 and insisting on a limited combat role for NATO once the alliance took over command of the mission.

Erdogan has urged Gathafi to "immediately" cede power and leave Libya.

In Moscow, a rebel negotiator told Russia after meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Benghazi would never negotiate with Gathafi and viewed the West's current military intervention as fair.

Russia abstained from the UN Security Council resolution on Libya in March that essentially authorised military action.

But the Kremlin has since accused the West of exceeding the UN mandate and becoming entangled in a full-blown military operation in Libya.

On the ground, there was little movement in the battle lines.

Rebel military spokesman Ahmed Omar Bani said the frontline between the rebel-held east and the mainly government-held west remained between the strategic crossroads town of Ajdabiya and the oil refinery town of Brega.

Bani said rebel fighters who earlier this month broke the loyalist siege of Libya's third-largest city Misrata -- the rebels' most significant bastion in the west -- had pushed on towards Zliten, the next town along the coastal road towards Tripoli.



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