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Putin brands NATO strike an assassination attempt as Libya threatens West


Libyan refugees, who fled the unrest, sit by their tent at a refugee camp near the southern Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Dehiba yesterday

Libyan refugees, who fled the unrest, sit by their tent at a refugee camp near the southern Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Dehiba yesterday

Libyan refugees, who fled the unrest, sit by their tent at a refugee camp near the southern Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Dehiba yesterday

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has hit out at the Nato-led air strikes in Libya, saying attacks on Muammar Gaddafi's palaces indicate the aim is to kill the Libyan leader.

This week Nato bombs targeted a building in Col Gaddafi's official residence in Tripoli, in what the Libyan government maintained was an assassination attempt.

Nato has denied it is trying to kill the Libyan leader.

But yesterday a spokesman for Gaddafi vowed to retaliate against coalition attacks.

He said that the attacks on the Libyan dictator's compound justified a wave of terror attacks on countries that take part in the raids on Tripoli.

Libyan state television said NATO jets hit civilian and military sites in three districts in the Libyan capital as well as a fibre-optic cable connecting the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte with the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Brega to the east, the BBC reported.

Moussa Ibrahim, a spokes-man for the Libyan government, said that Col Gaddafi remained "healthy and well" after the strike. Libyan television later showed Col Gaddafi receiving local leaders while sitting in a tent.

"There was talk about a no-fly zone. OK. But where's the no-fly zone if every night they're bombing palaces where Gaddafi lives?" Mr Putin said during a visit to Denmark.

"They say, 'No, we don't want to destroy him'. Then why bomb the palaces?"

The commander of Nato's operation, Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, said yesterday that the attack on the presidential complex in Tripoli was aimed at an army command centre and denied it was an attempt to kill Col Gaddafi.

Gen Bouchard said the complex was "a military compound in which there are various houses and residences . . . and various military command and control nodes throughout."

Mr Putin accused the nations taking part in the Nato-led operation of straying from the UN mandate to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians.

"Now several officials are saying, 'Yes, we're trying to destroy Gaddafi'. But who allowed you to do this? What, there was a trial? Who gave themselves the right to sentence someone to death?" Mr Putin said.

He didn't specify which officials or countries he was referring to.


Russia abstained in the UN Security Council vote last month authorising the military operation in Libya. At the time Mr Putin compared the UN resolution to "a call for a crusade."

Mr Putin said that Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa.

"It begs the question: is this the real source of interest of those who are brandishing their weapons now?" Mr Putin said.

He was speaking at a joint news conference with Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, whose country is part of the operation. Denmark's Air Force said its F-16 fighter jets so far have dropped 285 bombs on 127 missions over Libya.

Yesterday Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said his country's air-force jets would carry out strikes against Libya in a renewed bid to break an impasse in the nine-week struggle.

Italian planes will target military installations in Libya, Mr Berlusconi said yesterday after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Italy, once Libya's colonial ruler, ann- ounced yesterday it would change course and join in the action.

"The decision by our government hasn't been an easy one," Mr Berlusconi said, describing pressure from President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Mr Sarkozy to join in the mission to "speed up a resolution of the Libyan problem". Italy, which already hosts the mission's command, will fly sorties "against precise military targets".

The Libyan government, which has weathered an uprising for more than two months as rebels control much of the oil-rich east, denounced a strike on a Gaddafi compound in the capital, Tripoli, as an assassination attempt.

"This is not about individuals; this is not about regime change -- this is about bringing an end to the violence," Charles Bouchard, the Canadian air-force general commanding the Libya operation, told reporters.

NATO, which earlier said its forces hit an "intelligence complex" in Tripoli yesterday, later rescinded the reference.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that the conflict may not be over quickly.

Irish Independent