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NATO airstrikes cap week of rising pressure on Libya

NATO destroyed eight Libyan warships Friday in a week that saw a push for ICC arrest warrants for Qaddafi and a tough speech from Obama supporting the rebellion.

By Staff writer / May 20, 2011

Smoke rises from a ship that was hit in NATO airstrikes, at Tripoli sea port, Libya, early Friday, May 20.

Darko Bandic/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

NATO aircraft struck eight Libyan warships overnight Thursday, just hours after President Obama capped a week of increasing international pressure with a vow that Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi would fall from power.

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"Time is working against Qaddafi," said Mr. Obama, who voiced strong support for pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East. "When Qaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed."

NATO further weakened Colonel Qaddafi's regime with the airstrikes today, which commanders said came after two weeks of increased use by the Libyan Navy and the government's "systematic attacks" on civilians.

"Given the escalating use of naval assets, NATO had no choice but to take decisive action to protect the civilian population of Libya and NATO forces at sea," said Rear Adm. Russell Harding, deputy commander of the NATO operation.

Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim said the strikes were a "clear attempt to bring the nation to its knees" and that Libya "will starve," because the attacks were "clearly a message sent by NATO to the international maritime companies not to send any more vessels to Libya."

Rebel: 'I do not believe Obama has lost credibility'

Mr. Ibrahim was also quick to react to the US president's predictions of the regime's collapse, calling them "delusional."

"[Obama] believes the lies that his own government and own media spread around the world," said Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim. "It's not Obama who decides whether Muammar Qaddafi leaves Libya or not. It's the Libyan people who decide their future."

Yet that future is already being decided – and with American help – according to opposition activists contacted this week in the Libyan capital.

"Many in Tripoli do not see the flaws of the past," says a rebel activist in Tripoli, adding that there has been "unprecedented movement ... over the Libya issue." Obama added his voice to growing international support for the rebel government yesterday, calling it a "legitimate and credible" interim authority.

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