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Gadhafi defiant as airstrikes hit Libyan capital

NATO warplanes carry out airstrikes on the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Thursday, while state-run TV shows a defiant Moammar Gadhafi parading through the streets of the city pumping his fists.

Leader pumps fists in TV appearance

A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward troops loyal to Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi on Thursday west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

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NATO warplanes carried out airstrikes on the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Thursday, while state-run TV showed a defiant Moammar Gadhafi parading through the streets of the city pumping his fists.

Coalition jets could be heard flying overhead throughout the morning and early afternoon in Tripoli, witnesses said. Anti-aircraft guns returned fire after the explosions, and a column of smoke was visible in the southeastern part of the city.

Libyan TV broadcast footage on Thursday showing what it said was Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi defiantly waving at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli. ((Libyan TV/Associated Press))

Libyan television showed Gadhafi standing up through the sunroof of a car moving quickly through the streets as he pumped his fists. The broadcast said Gadhafi's tour came at the same time as NATO airstrikes on military and civilian targets in the capital and in Aziziyah, 35 kilometres to the south. The report claimed there were civilian casualties, which could not be confirmed.

NATO said it had conducted 153 sorties in the last 24 hours, striking 13 bunkers, one tank and one armoured personnel carrier in the Tripoli area and three multiple rocket launchers in the Brega area.

Gadhafi's troops unleashed heavy shelling for three hours on the port city of Misrata, which is partly held by rebels. Gadhafi's troops have laid siege to the city, taking control of some neighbourhoods, and the port is Misrata's only lifeline.

The port was struck with tank shells and rockets, said a rebel who only gave his first name, Abdel-Salam.  

At least 13 people — all civilians — were killed and an unknown number were wounded when scores of Grad rockets struck targets in Libya's third-largest city of Misrata, said a doctor there who gave his name only as Ayman.

Misrata in peril, aid worker says

The CBC's Derek Stoffel reported Thursday that aid workers say a catastrophe is underway in Misrata, where intense fighting has raged for nearly two months.

Hokki Erson, who heads the Turkish Red Cross relief mission to Libya, said the situation is desperate and relief workers can't get in to help.

Erson is appealing to the Libyan authorities to allow aid workers safe passage. On Wednesday, three Red Crescent ambulances were shot at near the eastern town of Ajdabiya.

"They need mostly the medicine and the food items," he said. "We are waiting for it to calm down."

Food supplies are sufficient in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Stoffel reported, but dozens of doctors and health-care workers in their white coats demonstrated on the street there Thursday calling on the world to send help.

"We are suffering here," said Dr. Susan Mahmood, an emergency room physician at a hospital in Benghazi. "There's not enough supplies."

The hospital's 20 beds are mostly filled with young men who are casualties from the front lines. Basic supplies are running out, even sheets for the beds.

NATO meeting in Berlin

Foreign ministers from 28 NATO countries, meanwhile, were meeting in Berlin on Thursday and Friday, with the Libyan conflict high on their agenda.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton winks as she sits alongside Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague during a meeting on Libya in Berlin on Thursday. ((Saul Loeb/Pool/Associated Press))

Britain and France have been pushing for other countries in the alliance to invest more in the military campaign in Libya, which for the past few weeks has involved bombing missions intended to protect civilians from Gadhafi's forces.

EU lifts sanctions on Libyan defector

The European Union has rewarded the most senior official to defect from the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi by unfreezing his assets and lifting a visa ban that had barred him from travelling in any of the 27 EU countries. The measure lifting sanctions against former foreign minister Moussa Koussa was agreed to Tuesday but made public Thursday. It was at least in part an attempt to lure other senior figures into deserting Gadhafi defectors, an EU official said. — AP

Aircraft from only six NATO countries are conducting airstrikes, with French and British warplanes carrying out half of the flights, a French official told Agence-France Presse. Belgium, Denmark, Canada and Norway are also taking part in airstrikes.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance and its partners "are fully engaged in operations to safeguard the people of Libya, taking every measure possible to prevent Gadhafi's brutal and systematic attacks."

The alliance is keeping up "a high operational tempo," he added.  

"In reality, we have the same objective — this objective is to allow the Libyan people to enjoy democratic freedom," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said.

"There will not be a military solution to the problem. There can only be a political solution," he said. "There is no future in Libya with Gadhafi."

Western leaders 'remain united' on Libya

In a joint declaration released Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said they "remain united" under a UN Security Council resolution to protect civilians in Libya.   

"It is not to remove Gadhafi by force," they wrote.

The declaration is to be published Friday in the International Herald Tribune, Le Figaro and the Times of London.

"So long as Gadhafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds," the leaders wrote.

"Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. In order for that transition to succeed, Gadhafi must go and go for good."

With files from The Associated Press