U.S. Launches Anti-Gadhafi Offensive in Africa

The United States has launched a diplomatic offensive against Libya among African nations as Tripoli accused NATO of a "massacre" of 85 villagers in air strikes in support of rebels.

American diplomats are visiting several African countries as part of efforts to urge leaders to press Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi to leave power immediately, officials in Washington said on Tuesday.

Several African states, having benefited financially from Gadhafi's policies, have been reluctant to call for him to step down, and have criticized the NATO-led military campaign in Libya.

Gene Cretz, the U.S. ambassador who left Tripoli after Gadhafi launched his bloody crackdown on the opposition in February, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Donald Yamamoto arrived Monday in Addis Ababa, headquarters of the African Union, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

They "are in Africa to meet with African Union members to discuss the crisis in Libya and the need for Gadhafi to relinquish power now," he told Agence France Presse.

Toner said they met Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and would meet AU Chairman Jean Ping. They also met Mahmoud Jibril, leader of Libya's opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) who was visiting Ethiopia.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a visit to AU headquarters in June, pressed all African states to demand that Gadhafi step down, as well as to expel his diplomats and increase African support for the opposition.

Gadhafi, meanwhile, said world powers would be held responsible for the "ugly massacre committed by NATO" on the village of Majer where 85 people were killed, Libya's official JANA news agency reported.

Majer, 10 kilometers (six miles) south of Zliten 120 kilometers east of Tripoli, was attacked late on Monday to try to help rebel fighters enter the government-held city from the south, government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said.

"After the first three bombs dropped at around 11:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Monday, many residents of the area ran to the bombed houses to try to save their loved ones. Three more bombs struck," he told reporters on an organized visit.

Thirty-three children, 32 women and 20 men from 12 families were killed in the "massacre," Mussa said.

Reporters attended the funerals of victims and saw 28 bodies buried at the local cemetery where hundreds of people vented their anger against NATO, "the spies and the traitors," an AFP correspondent said.

In the hospital morgue, 30 bodies -- including two children and one woman -- were shown along with other bodies which had been torn apart.

NATO, which launched its air campaign at the end of March under U.N. resolutions to protect civilians against Gadhafi's forces, insisted the raids were "legitimate" and said it had no evidence of civilian deaths.

"We do not have evidence of civilian casualties at this stage," the NATO spokesman for the alliance's Libya campaign, Colonel Roland Lavoie, said from his Naples headquarters.

NATO raids south of Zliten were against two former farms used for military purposes by Gadhafi forces, he said. "This was a military facility clearly... NATO takes extreme precaution not to harm innocent civilians living or working nearby."

JANA said Gadhafi sent a message to the heads of state of UN Security Council members saying "they should bear responsibility for the ugly massacre carried out by NATO in Majer."

He was quoted as saying "there has never been such a massacre throughout the history of wars."

Rebels fighting around Zliten said on Monday they were running low on ammunition as they struggled to hold off an assault by loyalists.

The rebels, advancing from the nearby port city of Misrata, punched into the center of Zliten a week ago. But they later pulled back to the edge of the city of 200,000 inhabitants.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, at least two rebels were killed in fighting on Tuesday around the oil town of Brega in eastern Libya, a rebel spokesman said.

On the diplomatic front, France said new EU sanctions were imposed on Gadhafi's regime, with Al-Sharara, which operates in the oil sector, among the targets.

Canada and Denmark, which have both recognized the NTC, expelled pro-Gadhafi diplomats, officials said.

And the United States said it has transferred the Libyan embassy in Washington to the NTC, which it has recognized as Libya's de facto government.

Source: Agence France Presse

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