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Turkish PM Urges Libyan Leader to Step Down

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, April 7, 2011 (file photo)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, April 7, 2011 (file photo)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down and leave the country "immediately."

Mr. Erdogan said Tuesday in Istanbul that Mr. Gadhafi has chosen "blood, tears and destruction" while ignoring calls for reform. He said Mr. Gadhafi must step down to prevent the Libyan people from further suffering.

Regional power Turkey has been a strong ally of the Libyan government, and it voiced opposition in March against sanctions or military intervention in the North African country.

On Thursday in Rome, members of the 22-nation Libya Contact Group plan to meet. The group will explore ways to help finance Libyan rebels and will discuss possible diplomatic solutions to the crisis.

The head of the rebel national council's finance committee, Ali Tarhouni, said the Libyan opposition expects France, Italy and the United States to extend billions of dollars in desperately needed credit secured against frozen Libyan state assets.

Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim Tuesday said Mr. Gadhafi has no personal funds in Swiss bank accounts and that any cash abroad is part of Libya's investment portfolio. The Swiss government said Monday it had identified $415 million of potentially illegal assets linked to Mr. Gadhafi or his entourage.

Also Tuesday, Italy said it will work with NATO to set a date to end military operations in Libya. Italy increased its presence in the international mission last week by allowing its fighter jets to participate in bombing operations over Libya.

Early Wednesday, two loud blasts were heard in the capital, Tripoli, apparently from NATO airstrikes.

The U.N. refugee agency says fighting in western Libya has caused more than 8,000 people - mostly ethnic Berber women and children - to flee into southern Tunisia over the past three days. Spokesman Adrian Edwards said Tuesday that African migrants also are fleeing Libya by sea to Italy after a 10-day break due to bad weather.

The International Organization for Migration appealed to all sides in the crisis to allow its rescue ship, the Red Star to dock in the port city of Misrata. The organization said about 1,000 African migrants and dozens of wounded civilians are stranded and need to be evacuated.

The ship has been waiting offshore since Saturday for bombing to stop and the waters outside the city's port - its only lifeline to the world - to be cleared of mines. NATO said it has destroyed two mines laid by pro-government forces and is still searching for a third.

Loyalist forces launched new attacks on Misrata Tuesday. They also shelled a road leading from a critical western border crossing seized by rebel forces last week. Rebels said the shelling was an attempt to disrupt supplies.

Also Tuesday, the general in charge of Libya's opposition forces said a car bomb exploded in front of their headquarters in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. No injuries were reported.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.