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Fresh Nato strikes target Triploi

Nato blasted Tripoli with a series of air strikes on Thursday morning, sending shuddering booms through the city.

Ambulances, sirens blaring, could be heard racing through the Libyan capital after the rattling blasts. A Nato statement said the attacks hit military vehicle and ammunition depots, a surface-to-air missile launcher and a fire control radar. Libyan government officials refused repeated requests for information.

The air strikes rained down just hours after Nato and its partners said it would extend the Libyan mission for 90 more days in support of a rebel insurgency. The opposition is trying to oust Muammar Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for more than 40 years. The rebels have taken control of much of eastern Libya,

"This decision sends a clear message to the Gaddafi regime: We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya," said Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Extending the mission also reflects resiliency of the Gaddafi regime that is hanging on to power despite the Nato strikes that have targeted military sites and the ruling family since mid-March, a naval blockade and top defections from his government and military.

They included the Libyan oil minister Shukri Ghanem, who said in Rome on Thursday that he now supports the rebel insurgency who have set up a de-facto capital in Benghazi.

"In this situation you can no longer work, so I have left my country and my work to unite myself with the choice of young Libyans to fight for a democratic country," the ANSA news agency quoted Mr Ghanem as saying.

Mr Ghanem said he left the regime two weeks ago and arrived in Rome on Tuesday. The Italian Foreign Ministry refused to comment. Up to now Libya has insisted that Mr Ghanem was on a business trip. Mr Ghanem said Libya's oil infrastructure had been badly hurt by the war.

Up to now, oil and gas has accounted for 95% of Libya's export income, 25% of its gross domestic product and 80% of government revenue, according to US government statistics.

The defection followed the departure of eight top Libyan army officers, including five generals, who were presented to reporters in Rome earlier this week by the Italian foreign ministry days after they fled Libya. Another 13 servicemen loyal to Gaddafi, including a colonel and four commanders, have fled to neighbouring Tunisia, the official Tunisian news agency reported. It was the second group of military men to defect to Tunisia this week.

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