Mugabe rushes to Ethiopia in desperate bid to rescue pal Gaddafi

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Tuesday for an extraordinary summit of the African Union focused on the Libyan crisis.

NATO warplanes hammered Muammar Gaddafi’s compound with their heaviest air strikes yet on Tuesday after the United States said the Libyan leader would “inevitably” be forced from power.

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The shockwave from the strikes was so powerful that plaster fell from the ceilings in a hotel where foreign reporters were staying, about 2 km (1.2 miles) from Gaddafi’s compound.

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Mugabe was expected to take the opportunity to do some damage control with South Africa following tensions over that country’s role in pressing for reforms in Zimbabwe.

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President Mugabe is expected to meet with South African Vice President Kgalema Motlanthe, who is representing President Jacob Zuma at the AU summit.

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Relations between Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Mr. Zuma’s African National Congress chilled recently as ZANU-PF hardliners resumed sniping at Mr. Zuma and his aides who have been facilitating power-sharing talks within the Harare government.

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ZANU-PF hardliners called Mr. Zuma a dishonest broker after a SADC troika meeting in Livingstone, Zambia, last month issued a communique rebuking Mr. Mugabe for political violence and urging him to step up the pace of democratic reforms.

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The state-controlled, ZANU-PF leaning Sunday Mail newspaper said Vice President John Nkomo and Party Chairman Simon Khaya Moyo complained to the ANC charging that Mr. Zuma’s foreign policy aide Lindiwe Zulu had made “reckless and inflammatory remarks” subsequently published in an ANC publication. It said Zuma’s facilitators were worried about the consequences for reform if Mr. Mugabe were removed from the scene.

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Zulu told VOA that the African National Congress has received no such complaint.

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The Sunday Mail accused Zulu of meddling in Zimbabwean politics, declaring that her “wings should be clipped” A ZANU-PF position paper seeking to marginalize Mr. Zuma at the just-ended SADC summit in Namibia – Mr. Zuma excused himself saying he was tied up with local elections – backfired as regional leaders backed the mediator.

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ZANU-PF moderates are urging Mr. Mugabe not to antagonize Pretoria. Party chairman Simon Khaya Moyo, considered to be a relative moderate within the former ruling party, distanced himself from the alleged complaint about Lindiwe Zulu’s conduct.

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Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Regional Coordinator Dewa Mavhinga said divisions in ZANU-PF are deepening as international pressure for reform mounts.

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Meanwhile, in Libya, a NATO official said strikes hit a military facility that had been used to launch attacks on civilians. A Libyan government spokesman said three people had been killed and 150 wounded, and that the casualties were local residents.

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“It is definitely, in terms of one target, the largest and most concentrated attack we have done to date,” said the NATO official in Brussels.
Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said the strikes had targeted a compound of the Popular Guards, an armed unit.

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But he said the compound had been emptied of people and “useful material” in anticipation of an attack. “This is another night of bombing and killing by NATO,” Ibrahim told reporters.

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Led by France, Britain and the United States, NATO warplanes have been bombing Libya since the United Nations authorised “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces in the country’s civil war.

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Critics argue that NATO has overstepped its mandate and is trying directly to engineer Gaddafi’s fall. Rebels, however, have complained Western forces are not doing enough to break Gaddafi’s army.

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“We have degraded his war machine and prevented a humanitarian catastrophe,” U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in Britain’s Times newspaper. “And we will continue to enforce the U.N. resolutions with our allies until they are completely complied with.”

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Gaddafi denies his forces target civilians and describes the rebels as criminals and religious extremists.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a London news conference on Monday: “We do believe that time is working against Gaddafi, that he cannot re-establish control over the country.”

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She said the opposition had organised a legitimate and credible interim council that was committed to democracy.
“Their military forces are improving and when Gaddafi inevitably leaves, a new Libya stands ready to move forward,” she said. “We have a lot of confidence in what our joint efforts are producing.”

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The United States bolstered the credentials of the rebel National Transitional Council as a potential government-in-waiting on Tuesday when a senior U.S. envoy invited it to set up a representative office in Washington.

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Unlike France, Italy and Qatar, the United States has not established formal diplomatic ties with the rebels.

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CONFLICT DEADLOCKED

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Rebels trying to end Gaddafi’s 41-year rule control the east of the oil-producing country, but the conflict has been deadlocked for weeks.

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French officials said on Monday that France and Britain would deploy attack helicopters, a step aimed at targeting Gaddafi’s forces more precisely.
Seeking to counter fears in Western capitals that NATO could be sucked into a long-drawn-out conflict, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told the French parliament the mission in Libya “would not last longer than a few months”.

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But the use of helicopters carries risks for NATO, as they would fly lower than warplanes and be more exposed to ground fire.

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The downing of helicopters, and any attempts to rescue the crews, could suck Western governments into the ground war which they had promised to avoid.

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British Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey said Britain had not taking a decision on deploying helicopters. “It is an option which we are considering and at some point in the future we may get to the point of deciding to go down this route,” he said.

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HEAD INJURIES

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Reporters, whose movements are tightly controlled by the Libyan authorities, were taken to visit Tripoli’s central hospital after the heavy night raids.
They were shown the corpses of three men with head injuries, their bodies laid out on gurneys.

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A man who identified himself only as Hatim, who had deep gashes and abrasions on his arms and legs, said the blasts had caved in part of his residence near the military compound.

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“We were in the house and then, wham, the ceiling came down, right on me,” he said.

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A Reuters reporter in the city of Misrata, 200 km (130 miles) east of the Libyan capital, said the western district of Defniyah had come under light shelling from pro-Gaddafi forces, but this had stopped later in the day.

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Rebel fighters in the city, the biggest rebel stronghold in western Libya, have pushed back government forces to the outskirts after weeks of street-by-street fighting.

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Gaddafi’s grip on power appeared to have suffered a blow last week when Libyan rebels and officials in neighbouring Tunisia said that Shokri Ghanem, Libya’s most senior oil official, had fled the country and defected.

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However, sources at Western oil firms said Ghanem was still working for the Libyan government, and was in fact on a secret mission to maintain ties with foreign energy firms so they could later return if international sanctions are lifted.