Africa

Libya: Gaddafi forces renew pounding of Misrata rebels

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Media captionThe BBC's David Loyn in Misrata says morale is high among the rebels

A renewed barrage of shelling by Libyan troops around Misrata has left at least 22 people dead and at least 60 wounded, according to hospital doctors in the rebel-held city.

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have been pounding Misrata throughout the day.

The city is the main rebel stronghold in western Libya, and has the country's largest port.

Witnesses report no activity in the area by Nato aircraft.

Tanks, artillery and incendiary rockets bombarded rebel positions at Dafniya, about 18 miles (30km) west of the city, said a doctor at Hikma Hospital in Misrata, speaking to Associated Press news agency.

Misrata has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the Libyan unrest. It endured 70 days of siege by pro-Gaddafi forces until Nato air raids broke the siege three weeks ago, enabling the rebels to break out.

Government forces have pushed back against those territorial gains.

They surround Misrata on all sides but the north, where the Mediterranean Sea provides a vital conduit for supplies from the rebel-held east.

Also on Friday, Col Gaddafi's forces shelled the town of Gadamis, 600km (370 miles) south-west of Tripoli, for the first time since the start of the uprising in February, a rebel spokesman told Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government had offered to help send Col Gaddafi "wherever he wants to go", but had so far received no response from the Libyan authorities, AFP news agency reported.

Rape investigation

In Norway, military officials have announced their country would scale down its fighter jet contribution to the Nato force flying above Libya, from six planes to four. It will withdraw completely from the Nato-led operation by August.

The alliance decided last week to extend the Libyan mission for 90 days, into late September.

Speaking shortly before the Norwegian announcement, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates strongly criticised some Nato allies, in his last major speech before he retires later this month.

Mr Gates said operations in Libya and Afghanistan had exposed shortcomings in the military capability and political will of some members.

A senior United Nations official has said rape is still being used as a weapon of war in conflicts worldwide, including Libya.

Most perpetrators go unpunished as sexual violence thrives in a climate of impunity where victims are denied justice or reparations, said Margot Wallstrom, special representative of the UN secretary general on sexual violence in conflict.

"Sexual violence has become a tactic of choice for armed groups, being cheaper, more destructive and easier to get away with than other methods of warfare," she told a news conference.

Earlier this week, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said he was reviewing evidence that Colonel Gaddafi ordered his troops to rape hundreds of women as a weapon against rebel forces.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo said rape was emerging as a new aspect of Col Gaddafi's repression.

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