Net tightens on Qadhafi as arrest warrant sought

TRIPOLI – Pressure mounted on Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi Tuesday as the International Criminal Court prosecutor sought his arrest, NATO jets pounded his capital and his truce offer was snubbed.

Compounding the strongman's woes, a security services building and the headquarters of Libya's anti-corruption agency were on fire in Tripoli early Tuesday after apparently being hit by NATO air strikes.

In the Hague, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo applied on Monday for warrants for the arrest of Qadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence head Abdullah Senussi for crimes against humanity.

The Argentine prosecutor said there was evidence "that Muammar Qadhafi personally ordered attacks on innocent Libyan civilians."

A panel of ICC judges will now decide whether to accept or reject the prosecutor's application.

Moreno-Ocampo said thousands of people had been killed and around 750,000 people forced to flee since Qadhafi ordered his forces to crush protests against his four-decade autocratic rule that began on February 15.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on the international community to "fully support" the ICC.

"I welcome this announcement. The human rights situation in western Libya and the behaviour of the Qadhafi regime remains of grave concern," Hague said.

The rebels too hailed the move by the ICC but said that Qadhafi ought to be tried in Libya first.

"The National Transitional Council welcomes the decision of chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to request an arrest warrant," the rebel administration's vice president, Abdel Hafez Ghoga, said.

"We would like him to be tried in Libya first before being put on trial in an international court," he added.

The Libyan regime however claimed the ICC prosecutor was acting on "incoherent" information.

"Unfortunately, the ICC was from the start of the Libyan crisis dependent on media reports to evaluate the situation in Libya. As a result, the ICC has usually reached incoherent conclusions," government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said in a statement.

On the ground, two buildings on Al-Jumhuriya Avenue, close to Qadhafi's residence were on fire early Tuesday, with firefighters battling to douse the flames that were tearing through the two facing buildings, said an AFP correspondent brought to the area with other journalists by Libyan authorities.

Government spokesman Ibrahim later said that the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) had directed NATO to attack the anti-corruption agency in a bid to destroy files related to former regime officials who have joined the rebellion.

"We believe that NATO has been misled to destroy files on their corruption cases," he told journalists.

Three explosions had also been heard late on Monday in the same area.

Parts of Tripoli have been targeted almost daily by NATO-led strikes launched on March 19 after a UN resolution called for the protection of civilians from Qadhafi's regime.

Russia was meanwhile to hold talks on Tuesday with envoys of the Libyan leader before having a separate meeting with rebel representatives at a later date.

"We have agreed Moscow meetings with representatives of both Tripoli and Benghazi," the ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.

Russia has refused to accept the rebels as a legitimate power in Libya and still has formal ties with the Qadhafi regime.

On Sunday, Qadhafi's prime minister Baghdadi Mahmudi offered a truce to UN special envoy, Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib, in return for an immediate NATO ceasefire.

Mahmudi said after meeting Khatib that Libya wants "an immediate ceasefire to coincide with a stop to the NATO bombardment and the acceptance of international observers," the official Libyan news agency JANA reported.

There has been no immediate response from NATO nor the NTC but previous truce offers by the regime have been rejected by the rebels, who say they won't lay down their arms until Qadhafi's regime stops attacking civilians.

NATO said on Monday that its warships thwarted a bid by Qadhafi's forces to use small boats loaded with improvised explosive devices to threaten aid ships heading to the port city of Misrata.

It was the third time in nearly three weeks that NATO encountered Qadhafi forces off the coast, after catching them laying sea mines in Misrata's harbour on April 29 and beating back a boat attack on the port last week, NATO said.

A NATO bomb disposal team discovered around one tonne of explosives and two human mannequins inside a boat abandoned by the loyalist force. The explosives were destroyed by an allied warship using small arms fire.

"This is the first evidence of an attempt to use an improvised explosive device with decoy human mannequins to threaten commercial shipping and humanitarian aid in the area of Misrata," NATO said in a statement.

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