An international arrest warrant was issued against Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi yesterday as rebel fighters battled to within 50 miles of his Tripoli stronghold.
The International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, accused Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senoussi, of crimes against humanity.
They are said to have orchestrated the killing, injury, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of the uprising against Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.
The warrants turn the three men into internationally wanted suspects, potentially complicating efforts to mediate an end to more than four months of intense fighting in the North African nation.
Anti-Gaddafi forces said yesterday they had launched a new push towards Tripoli and made their biggest breakthrough in weeks in the Western Mountains region southwest of the Libyan capital to reach the strategic town of Bir al-Ghanam, where they are now fighting pro-Gaddafi forces for control.
With world leaders stepping up calls for Gaddafi to end his four-decade rule, Nato war planes again pounded targets in Tripoli, including the leader’s compound.
Libyan officials said an airstrike fired two missiles targeting Gaddafi's personal bus inside his Bab al-Aziziya compound.
The bus was burned but no one was killed or injured, they said. Gaddafi is not believed to be staying at the compound.
Hailing the issue of the arrest warrant, Foreign Secretary William Hague said it showed he had 'lost all legitimacy'.
He insisted the move should act as a warning to Gaddafi's circle that they would be held to account for crimes against civilians.
'These individuals are accused of crimes against humanity and should be held to account before judges in a criminal court,' Mr Hague said.
'The warrants further demonstrate why Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy and why he should go immediately. His forces continue to attack Libyans without mercy and this must stop.
'People at all levels of seniority should think carefully about the consequences of what they do - whether they are ordering attacks on civilians or carrying them out; whether they are firing rockets into residential areas or intimidating ordinary Libyans who want a better future.
'Those involved must take full responsibility for their actions, and must be held to account.'
The ICC’s presiding judge Sanji Monageng, of Botswana, said there were 'reasonable grounds to believe' that Gaddafi and his son are both 'criminally responsible as indirect co-perpetrators' for the murder and persecution of civilians.
Even before the warrants were confirmed, the Libyan regime's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, had rejected the ICC as having 'no legitimacy whatsoever'.
Earlier, at a press conference in London with Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao, Prime Minister David Cameron reaffirmed his determination to see the military campaign in Libya through.
Mr Cameron said: 'Britain and our partners are acting absolutely within the ambit of a UN resolution that was passed without objection and without veto.
'Our action in Libya is about protecting civilian life - that's why we are taking the steps we are to stop Gaddafi who is still trying to kill, maim, murder, bomb, shell, snipe his own civilians, his own citizens, and will continue to act under UN Resolution 1973.
That's our responsibility - to protect civilians. Obviously it is for the Libyan people themselves to decide how they are governed and who governs them.
'I am confident that the pressure is growing on Gaddafi - military pressure, political pressure, diplomatic pressure - and we should keep that pressure up.'
But Mr Wen called for the situation to be resolved through 'political, peaceful means.
'We believe that the settlement of issues in a country should be based on the efforts of the people of that country.
'We hope that the issue of Libya will be resolved through political, peaceful means, to reduce the humanitarian harm and in particular the harm to innocent civilians.'
Amnesty International said the move by The Hague to issue arrest warrants were 'a step towards justice'.
The organisation's research in Libya since February points to the commission of possible crimes against humanity and war crimes.
A wave of killings and enforced disappearances of any suspected critics of the government began when anti-Gaddafi protests began in Benghazi.
Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International’s Director of Law and Policy, said: 'The request for arrest warrants is a step forward for international justice and accountability in the region.'
However Gaddafi says he has no intention of relinquishing his grip on power.
He has said the rebels are criminals and al Qaeda militants, and has called the Nato bombing campaign an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libya's oil.
The rebels, based in the mountainous region south-west of Tripoli, are fighting pro-Gaddafi forces for control of the town of Bir al-Ghanem.
A rebel leader said: 'There were battles there most of yesterday. Some of our fighters were martyred and they (government forces) also suffered casualties and we captured equipment and vehicles. It's quiet there today and the rebels are still in their positions.'
The rebels - backed by Nato air strikes - have been battling Gaddafi's forces since February, when thousands of people rose up against his 41-year-rule.
It prompted a fierce crackdown by Gaddafi's security forces. The revolt has turned into the bloodiest of the Arab Spring uprisings sweeping the Middle East.
For weeks now, rebels in their strong-hold in the east have been unable to make significant advances, while Nato air strikes have failed to dislodge Gaddafi, straining the Western alliance.
Analysts say if rebels outside the capital gain momentum, it could inspire anti-Gaddafi groups inside the capital to rise up - which many believe is the most effective way of forcing him out.
In neighbouring Tunisia three Libyan ministers, including the foreign minister, were holding talks with 'foreign parties,' a Tunisian state news agency reported.
Libyan foreign minister Abdelati Obeidi was on the island of Djerba, in southern Tunisia, where he was 'negotiating with several foreign parties'.
Obeidi was joined at the talks by health minister Ahmed Hijazi and social affairs minister Ibrahim Sherif.
However there were signs of discord within Gaddafi's inner circle at the weekend over how best to proceed.
A government spokesman early on Sunday renewed an offer to hold elections to decide on Gaddafi's political future. The idea had previously been proposed by one of Gaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam.
Later in the day, the same spokesman stepped back from those comments, saying Gaddafi was the historical choice of the Libyan people and could not be cast aside.
A statement read: 'Muammar Gaddafi is Libya's historical symbol, and he is above all political actions, above all political and tactical games.
'In this current stage and in the future, Gaddafi is the historical choice which we cannot drop.
'As for the current and future Libya, it is up to the people and the leadership to decide it. It is not up to the armed groups, nor up to Nato to decide.'
'It is not possible for a new stage to begin before Nato stops its aggression against Libya. As for the armed groups, they have no force on the ground, nor popular representation.'
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2008674/Gaddafi-arrest-warrant-issued-International-Criminal-Court.html#ixzz1QZCDnFGg
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