Libyan rebels set for renewed push to Tripoli

Libyan rebels looked set for another push against leader Muammar Qadhafi's forces on Friday, just days after the opposition made hefty advances toward Tripoli on two fronts.

A rebel sympathizer in Misrata, on Libya's Mediterranean coast, told Reuters that rebels had been moving closer to neighboring Zlitan, one of a chain of government-controlled towns blocking their advance to Tripoli.

As they advanced, pro-Qadhafi forces inside the city fired rounds of explosives to block their progress, the sympathizer said in an email.

"The rebels are waiting for NATO backup or for Qadhafi forces to run out of ammunitions to make a move to take the city center," he said.

After weeks of static fighting, the rebels on Wednesday advanced westward from Misrata to within 13 km of Zlitan, where large numbers of pro-Qadhafi forces are based.

In the Western Mountains region southwest of Tripoli, other rebels seized a village, bringing them closer to a taking a town that would give them control of a major highway into the capital.

Turkey has frozen $1 billion of Libyan central bank reserves deposited in its banks as part of United Nations sanctions against Qadhafi's government, a Turkish newspaper reported on Friday.

The Star newspaper cited officials from Turkey's foreign and economic ministries in its report, adding the opposition National Transitional Council had urged Turkey to release the reserves during a visit by a Libyan rebel leader this week.

Libyan TV broadcasted calls from tribal leaders on Thursday urging people in Tripoli to gather at the city's Green Square for prayers on Friday.

A post on a Facebook page used by anti-Qadhafi activists said it was possible the authorities would close mosques in the capital to force people to gather in the square.

Qadhafi opponents narrowly avoided a diplomatic setback on Thursday, when a US resolution to stop funding the military intervention was narrowly defeated in the US House of Representatives.

Both Republicans and Democrats have argued President Barack Obama violated the US Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Resolution by failing to secure congressional authorization for US military operations in Libya.

There have been other signs of growing discontent within the NATO alliance over the bombing of the North African country.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Thursday he was against NATO intervention, but had to go along with it.

Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said Italy's cost for the operation would be less than 60 million euros in the second half, down from 142 million in the first half.

The country has also withdrawn its aircraft carrier Garibaldi with three aircraft on board. Their tasks would be taken on by land-based aircraft.

Qadhafi has rejected any suggestion that he will give up power and he has described the NATO campaign as an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libya's oil.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged Qadhafi – who has dismissed rebels trying to end his four-decade rule as criminals and vermin – to listen to the will of the people.

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