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Help us now, plead Libyan rebels

Libyan rebels have begged for international help as Muammar Gaddafi exploits the West's indecision by stepping up his attacks.

The breakdown of rebel defences in Ajdabiya, 480 miles south-east of Tripoli, threatens to open the gateway to the long stretch of eastern Libya that has been in the control of the opposition throughout the month-long uprising.

Its fall would allow regime forces to bombard Benghazi, Libya's second largest city and the de facto capital of the opposition, by air, sea and land.

"People are fed up. They are waiting impatiently for an international move," said Saadoun al-Misrati, a rebel spokesman in Misrata, the last rebel-held city in the west. "What Gaddafi is doing, he is exploiting delays by the international community. People are very angry that no action is being taken against Gaddafi's weaponry."

Gaddafi's forces have continued shelling with relentless artillery fire and little resistance from the rebels, forcing residents to flee to tents set up outside the city or 140 miles away to Benghazi.

Ajdabiya has been a key supply point for the rebellion, with ammunition and weapons depots. Until now, the Gaddafi forces' offensive towards the east has battled over two oil ports on the Mediterranean, and Ajdabiya is the first heavily populated city in the area they have tried to retake.

It was a major setback to the rebels, who less than two weeks ago were poised to march on Tripoli, the capital, and had appeared capable of sweeping Gaddafi out of power, inspired by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

But the regime's better armed and organised military has reversed the tide as efforts led by France and Britain to create a no-fly zone to protect the rebels foundered.

Gaddafi warned rebels: "There are only two possibilities: Surrender or run away." He said he was not like the Tunisian or Egyptian leaders who fell after anti-government protests. "I'm very different from them," he said. "People are on my side and give me strength."

Top diplomats from some of the world's biggest powers deferred to the UN Security Council to take action against Libya, as France and Britain failed to win support for a no-fly zone in the face of German opposition and US reluctance.

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