Conflicting reports, skirmishes fuel tension in Tripoli. Qaddafi's failure to show up at news conference sparks rumors

The atmosphere in the Libyan capital remained tense Wednesday, amid conflicting reports about alleged renewed United States attacks and uncertainty about Col. Muammar Qaddafi's whereabouts and condition. Libyan officials claimed that anti-aircraft fire that broke out for a half-hour in Tripoli yesterday was aimed at a US reconnaissance plane. Libyan radio also claimed that US jets raided, but failed to hit, targets in two areas 40 miles outside Tripoli.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman denied the Libyan claim, saying, ``There is no US military activity in Libya.'' Other Pentagon sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said efforts have been made to survey Libyan targets using satellites and reconnaisance planes.

Journalists in Tripoli heard small-arms and mortar fire and saw apparent street skirmishes near Colonel Qaddafi's headquarters. These incidents led to reports such as one aired at noon yesterday by ABC television. The report said, ``American intelligence sources believe that Colonel Qaddafi is either dead or out of the country.'' Asked about this, Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes said, ``I really wouldn't go that far. I'm not sure it's an accurate intelligence conclusion.''

At press time, there had been no sign of the Libyan leader, who failed to appear for a promised news conference. Libyan officials and state-run media insisted that he is alive, unhurt, and in control.

About 70 reporters in a bus were nearing Qaddafi's sprawling headquarters compound for the news conference when small-arms fire started about 500 feet from the vehicle. The bus then turned back. Libyan officials reacted angrily, when they heard radio reports relaying the journalists' stories of street skirmishes. Journalists also saw a Libyan patrol boat fire cannon rounds along the Tripoli waterfront, but it was not clear who was firing or what their target was.

After the shooting ended, the reporters again were put on a bus to Qaddafi's compound. An official said, Qaddafi ``is in Libya,'' but refused to elaborate. The Qaddafi residence, a two-story, blue-and-white cement building, was peppered with shrapnel from a bomb that left a large crater 10 yards away.

Western diplomats estimated the death toll from Tuesday's bombing at 100. Libyan officials would say only that many people were killed, and hospitals said up to 100 people were injured in one residential area.

Libyan television broadcast a film clip that it said showed Qaddafi meeting Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Anissimov after Tuesday's bombing. A Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the meeting took place.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Sudan, a US Embassy employee was shot in the head and seriously hurt late Tuesday in the capital city of Khartoum. US officials said they had no information directly linking the attack to Libya, but an official at the US Embassy in Khartoum said the attack occurred near the Libyan Embassy. The US Embassy in Khartoum was closed Wednesday after it had been ordered to a ``a high state of alert'' for fear of trouble because of Tuesday's US bombing raids on Libya.

A State Department spokesman said the victim was leaving the US Embassy in his car, when another car drove up beside him and shots were fired. The employee, a communications technician whose identity was being withheld because his relatives had not been notified, was flown to a hospital in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, a State Department official in Washington said Wednesday.

US Secretary of State George Shultz, asked about the shooting during a satellite news conference with reporters in Europe, said there was no evidence Libya was behind the attack. He said, however, that there have been previous threats against US diplomats in the Sudan.

Meanwhile, in England, a British politician said that some US jets returned to their bases with bombs still aboard. According to Sir Eldon Griffiths, a Conservative parliamentarian who supports the US action and who was briefed by senior US officers, Libyan ground defenses forced some planes to abandon their mission.

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