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Libyan officials decry air strikes as immoral and undemocratic

On a tour of a missile storage area that was still smoldering, Libyan officials cast the UN-sanctioned air strikes as contrary to Western values and inconsistent with the stated aim of protecting civilians.

By Staff writer / March 22, 2011

In this photo taken on a guided tour by the Libyan government, a Libyan holds a portrait of Libya's leader Muammar Qaddafi at a naval military facility damaged by coalition air strikes, in eastern Tripoli Tuesday.

Zohra Bensemra/Reuters


Tripoli, Libya

As criticism of the scope of allied air attacks on Libya rises from South Africa to Russia, Libyan officials Tuesday took journalists to a recent target: a set of large sheds on a Tripoli naval base that housed aging missile equipment and workshops.

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Six Tomahawk cruise missiles – of the 161 fired against Libya so far – struck the facility Monday night, in one of the latest salvos of a United Nations-endorsed air operation meant to stop forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi from crushing antigovernment rebels.

US commanders say the strikes have crippled the Libyan military advance. But amid the smoldering ruins Tuesday, Libyan officials claimed this strike stepped beyond the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution that authorizes “all necessary means” to protect civilians.

They charge that the Western attacks against Libya are antidemocratic, and that they want a peaceful solution – despite much evidence to the contrary from authorities here. Their reaction is a mixture of sadness, anger, and bravado.

“What does this have to do with protecting innocent civilians? The goal is to destroy Libya’s capabilities,” said one official who organized the visit and would only let herself be identified as Dr. Aisha. “This is going to embarrass them in front of international opinion.”

'Good morning, victory!'

Driving through the city during the bombardment Monday night, one could see some Libyans on the streets climbing on their cars and waving green Libyan flags to shout in defiant celebration, as antiaircraft fire erupted from gun emplacements across the city.

Early Tuesday, one radio station kept up the surreal theme, telling listeners: “Good morning, victory!” On its morning news ticker, State-run Libyan TV made no mention of the air strikes or their impact.

Blackened corrugated sheeting swung from the roof structure, above four Soviet-era missile launchers that were wrecked in the strikes. Three missiles – dummies used for training, the Libyans said – nested untouched under faded tarpaulins in a corner.

Smoke rose from a mountain of large paint cans, and in other warehouses precision machining equipment was destroyed. At one crater, chunks of metal from one missile had been piled up, including a round silver cylinder the size of a peanut butter jar labeled, “Battery: Lithium Thermal.”

“The solution is not like this, striking this place,” said Capt. Abdul of the Libyan Navy, who said he trained last year with the French Navy, and prior to that with Italian and Egyptian navies.

He said there were no casualties in the strike, because officers had received “warnings that this place may be targeted.” And none of the handful of nearby military ships were damaged. But the captain said the missile attacks were a “catastrophe” for Libya.


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