NATO: More airstrikes in western Libya

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — NATO said Saturday it has begun ramping up its airstrikes on military targets in the western part of Libya, where rebel forces claim a string of advances through territory still largely under Moammar Gadhafi’s control.

In a boost for Gadhafi, meanwhile, the African Union called on member states to disregard an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against the Libyan leader. That could enable Gadhafi to travel freely on the continent. The warrant was issued for his alleged role in a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters earlier this year.

The decision passed by the 53-member African Union late Friday states that the warrant against Gadhafi “seriously complicates” efforts by the organization to find a solution to the Libyan crisis.

AU executive Jean Ping also told reporters that the ICC is “discriminatory” and only goes after crimes committed in Africa, while ignoring those he says were committed by Western powers in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“With this in mind, we recommend that the member states do not cooperate with the execution of this arrest warrant,” said the motion, which was shown to The Associated Press and whose passage was confirmed by Daniel Adugna, a spokesman in the AU commissioner’s office.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim praised the AU’s decision, saying “we salute their courage.” He said Gadhafi had no immediate plans to leave the country, however.

“We are at war with the mightiest armies in the world, and the safety of the leader is a must for us. So we need to keep him safe to lead us through this difficult time,” he said.

Libya welcomed a road map for dialogue drafted by the AU that outlines plans for negotiations between the government and rebels, Moussa said.

He confirmed that Gadhafi would not be involved in the proposed talks, and expressed hope that a cease-fire could be reached “in the next few days, or weeks at most.”

Gadhafi’s regime is determined to stand firm against opposition fighters moving from southern and eastern fronts toward the capital, Tripoli. The rebels have largely solidified control over the eastern third of Libya but have struggled to push out of pockets they hold in the west.

NATO’s comments about its latest airstrikes suggest the alliance is hoping to tip the balance further in the rebels’ favor despite threats by Gadhafi to carry out attacks in Europe unless the airstrikes stop.

The coalition said it has destroyed more than 50 military targets in the west this week. It says it is targeting government forces in cities and along “major lines of communication.”

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