A new round of suspected NATO airstrikes shook the Libyan capital and its suburbs early Friday, a day after allied and Arab nations pledged more than $1.1 billion to help Libya’s opposition council and civilians affected by the country’s conflict.
The 22-member Libya Contact Group announced the series of financial measures Thursday as they met in the United Arab Emirates to plan for a Libya without its embattled leader, Moammar Gadhafi.
Among the donors, Italy – Libya’s former colonial ruler – said it will commit nearly $600 million in assistance to Libyan rebels, including loans and fuel products. France pledged more than $420 million in support. Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey also promised funds.
The United States did not offer direct aid to the rebels. But it announced an additional $26.5 million in humanitarian relief to all Libyans.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the conference Mr. Gadhafi’s “days are numbered.” She later described the rebel Transitional National Council as the “legitimate interlocutor” of the Libyan people .
Australia went a step further, joining a handful of countries – including France, Britain, Italy and Qatar – in formally recognizing the rebel council as the legitimate government of Libya.
Clinton said talks are under way with people close to Mr. Gadhafi that have raised the “potential” for a transition of power. Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd also referred to what he called multiple “feelers” from the Tripoli government, saying the Libyan leader’s end “may come sooner” than expected.
In Washington Thursday, CIA chief Leon Panetta said in Senate testimony that the NATO military operation and strong economic sanctions are putting tremendous pressure on Mr. Gadhafi’s government. Panetta is U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Robert Gates as defense secretary.
Meanwhile, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade met with Libyan opposition leaders in the rebel stronghold, Benghazi. He told journalists Thursday the sooner Mr. Gadhafi leaves, the better.
Heavy NATO bombardments hit military and command targets across Tripoli Tuesday and Wednesday in some of the heaviest strikes since March. The assaults included air raids near Mr. Gadhafi’s residential compound.
A Libyan government spokesman said NATO dropped more than 60 bombs on Tripoli Wednesday, killing 31 people and injuring dozens. Another Libyan official denied accusations that Mr. Gadhafi’s regime has committed human rights violations.
Mustafa Shaban commented on Thursday, a day after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said investigators have evidence Mr. Gadhafi ordered mass rapes of women considered disloyal to his regime.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo said his team is looking into whether the Libyan leader provided soldiers with Viagra-like medicines in order to promote the rape of women. He said he may present new charges of mass rape against Mr. Gadhafi.