A Libyan navy base some 10 kilometres east of the capital was bombarded late yesterday, said witnesses who reported seeing flames there. They said the Bussetta base was hit at 1900 GMT.

Earlier, state television said the capital Tripoli was under attack. Loud explosions and anti-aircraft fire ripped across the night sky near the residence of embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, an AFP reporter said.

The coalition headed by the United States, Britain and France also bombarded the southern town of Sebha, bastion of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s Guededfa tribe, a government spokesman said.

“Since Saturday, the enemy coalition has launched air raids and missile attacks on Tripoli, Zuwarah, Misrata, Sirte and Sebha, especially targeting airports,” Mussa Ibrahim told a news conference in the capital.

“Yes, Sebha was attacked today,” he said in response to a question about when the town 750 kilometres south of Tripoli came under fire.

Mr Ibrahim said yesterday’s attacks caused “numerous” civilian victims, especially at the “civilian airport” in Sirte, Col Gaddafi’s native town 360 kilometres east of the capital.

Mr Ibrahim also warned Europeans of “an influx of African immigrants”.

“When the state is weak it cannot monitor its frontiers. Europe must prepare for an influx of African immigrants,” he said.

He said hundred of Africans had left Libya by sea in recent days in a bid to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe illegally.

On Friday, Colonel Gaddafi warned the EU that Libya could stop the fight against illegal immigration, and on Sunday state television quoted an official as saying Tripoli had decided no longer to cooperate with Europe in doing so.

Meanwhile the UN Security Council will meet on Thursday at the behest of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, a UN diplomat said, amid air strikes on Libya to enforce a no-fly zone authorised by a UN resolution.

The decision came yesterday as world powers met on the conflict, with international criticism mounting over the air assault directed at Col Gaddafi’s capabilities.

The diplomat, who was speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, also said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would speak at Thursday’s meeting.

In Cairo, the Arab League reaffirmed its support for Operation Odyssey Dawn after the previous day saying the air strikes led by the United States, France and Britain went beyond the scope of a UN resolution to implement a no-fly zone.

And as divisions over the air strikes emerged in Nato, the United States said the ultimate goal of the operation is the departure of Col Gaddafi.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, however, said there was no legal authority for regime change in Libya.

At ground level rebels yesterday said they were under intense attack by Col Gaddafi’s forces in the city of Misrata near Tripoli and an AFP reporter saw them beaten back from a frail attempt to retake the eastern key town of Ajdabiya.

Libyan government spokes­man Mussa Ibrahim claimed that Misrata, Libya’s third city 214 kilometres east of Tripoli, was “liberated three days ago” and that Col Gaddafi’s forces were hunting “terrorist elements.”

But a rebel spokesman reached by telephone in Misrata insisted the insurgents remained in control despite an onslaught by Gaddafi loyalists, who he said opened fire with tanks and set snipers on roofs to gun down people in the streets.

A medic in Misrata, speaking by telephone against a background of gunfire, confirmed a death toll of 40 and said at least 300 people had been wounded.

“Casualties fell in their dozens,” after snipers and a tank “fired on demonstrators,” the rebel spokesman said.

The Libyan strongman’s troops had not yet taken Misrata, but “have taken up position along the main road where they have deployed three tanks, as well as positioning snipers on rooftops,” the rebel spokesman said.

General Carter Ham, head of the US Africa Command, said that US forces had no mission to support a ground offensive by the rebels, but at the same time Gaddafi’s troops in the Benghazi area show “little will or capability to resume offensive operations”.

Nato struggled yesterday to overcome divisions about a role in the military operation in Libya, as France resisted pressure to let the alliance take over and Turkey criticised the bombing campaign.

As more nations joined the Western coalition pounding Col Gaddafi’s forces, Nato was still debating whether, and in what form, the Western military organisation should join the UN-mandated intervention.

Nato members France, Britain and the United States have acted as individual nations in the air and sea campaign against Col Gaddafi’s regime, with US military officers coordinating operations from bases in Germany and Italy.

But London, Rome and several other alliance members favour moving to a centralised Nato command, with Norway even saying its six fighter jets would stay grounded as long as it was unclear who was running the operations. “It shouldn’t be a war on Libya,” said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, while Bulgaria labelled military intervention an “adventure” driven by oil interests.

Belgian and Spanish warplanes began patrolling Libyan skies yesterday, Danish and French aircraft launched new missions, Italy helped to suppress air defences and Norwegian fighters left for Italian bases, respective official sources said.

Col Gaddafi on Sunday promised “a long, drawn-out war with no limits” in a speech broadcast on state television but without appearing on camera.

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