Video: Gadhafi forces renew assault on rebel town

NBC News and news services
updated 6/9/2011 8:45:48 PM ET 2011-06-10T00:45:48

International donors meeting Thursday in Abu Dhabi pledged more than $1.3 billion to help support Libya's main opposition group as it plans a strategy for an era after the departure of embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi.

People close to Gadhafi are looking for international help to negotiate his departure from power, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday as countries backing NATO's military mission in Libya predicted Gadhafi's demise may be imminent.

Gadhafi opposition leaders grumbled that donors have been stingy and slow. NATO intensified airstrikes against Gadhafi-held areas around the Libyan capital but the opposition says rebels fighting to oust Gadhafi cannot hold on without more help.

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"There have been numerous and continuing discussions by people close to Gadhafi and we are aware that those discussions include, among other matters, the potential for a transition," Clinton told reporters after a meeting of top officials from the more than 30-member Contact Group on Libya.

Asked about reported overtures from Gadhafi loyalists to African nations for possible exile, Clinton would not speculate if any would be accepted. But she said decades of Gadhafi's despotic rule were on the verge of collapse. Her comments were echoed by other officials at the conference in Abu Dhabi.

"Gadhafi's days are numbered," Clinton said. "We are working with our international partners through the U.N. to plan for the inevitable: a post-Gadhafi Libya."

Image: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
Jumana El Heloueh  /  Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (R) speaks to Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh ahead of the third contact group meeting on Libya, at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi June 9, 2011.

Gadhafi may be out sooner than many had predicted, said Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

The military campaign had been in stalemate for weeks, with forces loyal to the strongman able to easily hold off rebel offensives. Rebels have taken control of swaths of eastern Libya, but Gadhafi remains in control of the capital, Tripoli. Gadhafi shows no signs of ceding power under the building pressure of NATO airstrikes, despite repeated attacks on his compound, government buildings, military radar emplacements and other army installations

"The momentum is decisively moving against the regime," Rudd said.

Airstrikes around Tripoli
NATO airstrikes rattled the Libyan capital Thursday with clusters of bombing runs believed to have targeted the outskirts of Tripoli.

The intensity of the attacks suggested a return to the heavy NATO bombardment of the city that hit military installations across the capital earlier this week. The heaviest attacks on Tripoli since the air campaign began two months ago flattened major buildings in Gadhafi's sprawling compound in the center of the city and fed speculation that NATO is closing in on the leader.

By nightfall Thursday, a total of 14 air attacks had been carried out, considerably fewer than Tuesday. There were eight explosions in a first series of strikes on Thursday and hours later, the sound of six more airstrikes boomed in the distance.

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The NATO mandate is to protect Libyan civilians, not topple the government, but President Barack Obama and other leaders have been clear that they want Gadhafi gone.

CIA chief Leon Panetta said in testimony before the Senate Thursday the NATO military operation, strong economic sanctions, and enforcement of the no-fly zone are putting tremendous pressure on Gadhafi. Obama has named Panetta to take over the Pentagon this summer.

In Brussels on Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said new government attacks near rebel-controlled Misrata underscore the continued need to protect civilians.

"It is an example that the Gadhafi regime still constitutes a threat to the civilian population," he said. "We will stay committed as long as necessary."

Appeal for cash
The rebel Transitional National Council appealed for urgent infusions of cash to keep from going broke.

The council is trying to establish an interim government to take over after Gadhafi leaves and to organize democratic elections. It says it needs $3 billion to survive the next four months and warned that Thursday's meeting would be a "total failure" if financial assistance was not forthcoming.

"We want more commitments, something tangible and practical to help our people," Libya's former U.N. ambassador Abdurraham Mohamed Shalgham told reporters. "We have more than one enemy. Gadhafi is killing our people and now we have starvation."

Italy and France responded by offering a combined $1.02 billion while Kuwait and Qatar promised a combined $280 million.

Turkey announced it would set up a $100 million fund for reconstruction and recovery.

Preparing for Libya's next phase leapfrogs the question of what happens to Gadhafi — exile, prosecution, death in an airstrike or something else. Gadhafi loyalists and rebels would also have to agree on terms for a ceasefire.

Work began Thursday to set political terms for a post-Gadhafi future. The council provided a road map to the 30 countries for how it planned to run the country on an interim basis until democratic elections are held.

Diplomats also approved financial controls to help ensure funds provided to the rebel Transitional National Council are spent appropriately.

"The negotiations were difficult but at the end we found a solution that was transparent and satisfied all parties and the needs of the TNC," said Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a co-chair of the meeting and the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.

In the communique issued after the meeting, countries said greater efforts should be made "to put financing on a more sustainable footing" by helping the TNC restart the production and export of crude oil and encouraging "states to look at how assets that belong to the Libyan people can be best used to help" them.

Clinton may have disappointed the rebel-affiliated group by saying that while Washington would boost its humanitarian aid to all Libyans by $26.5 million it would not immediately offer any direct aid to the council.

But she and Rudd announced that the U.S. and Australia now recognized the council as "the legitimate interlocutor" for the Libyan people, moving a shade closer to conferring formal recognition on the body that could lift hurdles to additional money.

Clinton acknowledged that the council "faces a serious budget shortfall" and "needs our immediate financial assistance." She noted that a group of U.S. lawmakers has come up with a framework to allow a portion of the frozen assets to be used to pay for humanitarian relief. She called on other countries to follow suit.

The U.S. said on Wednesday that the first shipment of Libyan oil sold by the council had been delivered to an American refinery and Clinton encouraged other nations to make similar purchases to help the Libyan people.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Conflict in Libya, Week 15

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  1. Rebel fighters inspect a burning house in Yafran, about 60 miles southwest of the Libyan capital, on June 6. The rebels drove out Gadhafi forces there earlier in the day. (Youssef Boudlal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A rebel fighter removes a Libyan flag from a house previously held by government forces in Yafran on June 6. (Youssef Boudlal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. In this photo taken on a government organized tour, a Libyan official points at a girl identified by officials as "Haneen" while he speaks to the media in a hospital in Tripoli, Libya, on June 5. Libyan officials claimed on Sunday that the girl was injured during a NATO airstrike; however, a small note later passed by a medic to a foreign reporter claimed the child was actually injured in a road traffic accident. (Ivan Sekretarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A volunteer applies cement on the graves of soldiers loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, who have been buried at a cemetery in the west Libyan city of Misrata on June 5. Some 545 soldiers loyal to Gadhafi, who were killed in battles with rebel fighters, have been buried in Misrata according to Muslim rites since the start of the conflict. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Volunteer Mohammed Ali, right, shows aspiring camerawoman Fatima Khaled, 22, how to operate the camera at the office of Libya Al-Hurra (Free Libya), a rebel television studio, in Misrata, on June 5. The television studio is made of up of volunteers. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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    The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship that originated from Libya and which, according to the United Nations refugee agency, was transporting an estimated 850 refugees, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah on Friday, June 4. The Geneva-based agency said Friday that at least 578 of the estimated 850 people on board, mostly from West Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh, survived the Wednesday sinking, making it one of the worst and deadliest incidents in the Mediterranean so far this year. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An ophthalmologist examines the eyes of a Libyan refugee in a makeshift hospital tent at a refugee camp in Tataouine on June 3. (Anis Mili / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Smoke billows from Tajura, a suburb of the Libyan capital Tripoli, after NATO warplanes launched intensive air raids on Tripoli and its eastern suburbs on June 4. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A Libyan rebel fighter prepares anti-aircraft ammunition as he wears the cap of a pro-Moammar Gadhafi officer at Misrata's western front line, some 16 miles from the city center, on June 4. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Malak Al Shami, 6, who had a leg amputated after her house was hit by a rocket, jokes with nurses at a hospital in Misrata on June 3. Malak's house was hit by a rocket belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on May 13. She lost her sister Rodaina, 1, and her brother Mohamed, 3, on the same day of the incident. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A boy scout wears a traffic police uniform, as he directs traffic on a street in Benghazi on June 2. Boy scouts are volunteering for the job, as there has been a lack of traffic police officers since the political conflict in the country began. (Mohammed Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyans inspect the site of a blast in the parking lot of the Tibesti hotel, used by rebel leaders, diplomats and journalists, in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi on June 1. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A rebel army officer teaches Libyan women the use of weapons in Benghazi on June 1. (Mohammed Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A rebel fighter prepares tea on Misrata's western front line, some 16 miles from the city center on June 1. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Mourners pray at the funeral of Libyan rebel fighter Osama Fathy Ashour, 29, who was killed during battles with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, in Misrata, on May 31. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Medics carry an injured rebel fighter at a field hospital near Misrata's western front line, on May 31. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Women mourn for their relative, a rebel fighter killed during a battle with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, during his funeral at Misrata's western front line on May 31. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebel fighters bathe in an outdoor spring in Misrata, Libya, on May 31. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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