Gaddafi forces strike back as rebels close in on Tripoli

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Rania

Cairo, Feb 25 (PTI) Libyan forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafiattacked anti-regime protesters with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at a mosque in Zawiyah leaving nearly 100people dead, as outraged western nations today prepared toslap sanctions against Tripoli.

Undeterred by the brutal military action, protesters, whohave gained control of several eastern cities, advanced closerto 68-year-old Gaddafi''s stronghold of Tripoli.

Speculation was rife over the whereabouts of the Libyanruler who, in a marked contrast to a 75-minute address from apodium outside his Tripoli home on Tuesday, told the state TVon telephone last evening from an undisclosed destination thatal-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden was responsible for unprecedentedprotests against his 41-year rule.

An increasingly isolated Gaddafi said the uprisingagainst his regime was not a people''s revolt in the style ofEgypt and Tunisia, but inspired by Osama''s outfit.

There had also been reports of a fierce battle forcontrol of an airport near the opposition-controlled city ofMisrata, about 200 km from Tripoli.

However, the worst violence was witnessed in the town ofZawiyah, about 50 km west of Tripoli, where troops opened firewith automatic weapons and an anti-aircraft gun on a mosquewhere protesters had been taking shelter last evening.

Witnesses told Al Jazeera the death toll in the violencethere was estimated to be close to 100.

But Gaddafi''s opponents reportedly managed to capture amilitary air base.

In Washington, US President Barack Obama spoke over phonewith French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Premier DavidCameroon and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi anddiscussed the Libyan crisis.

The White House said the leaders discussed a range ofoptions that both the US and European countries are preparingto hold the Libyan government accountable for its actions.

It said all options were on the table, includingsanctions.

State Department spokesman P J Crowley said the Obamaadministration supported a European proposal for the UN HumanRights Council to recommend Libya''s expulsion from the body.

He said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at thedirection of Obama, is travelling to Geneva on February27-28 to address a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council andmobilise the international community against the MuammarGaddafi regime of Libya.

The UN Security Council is expected to meet soon in NewYork to consider further action against Gaddafi''s government.

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