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U.S. reaches out to Libyan rebels

The Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya -- The Obama administration reached out yesterday to Libya's rebels and said Moammar Gadhafi would "inevitably" be forced from power as the U.S.-backed NATO coalition launched a withering bombardment on his stronghold in Tripoli.

The NATO airstrikes struck in rapid succession shortly after midnight, setting off more than 20 explosions in the most intensive bombardment yet of the Libyan capital. Plumes of acrid-smelling smoke rose from an area around Gadhafi's compound in central Tripoli.

A U.S. official warned the Libyan ruler that the pace of the attacks will intensify. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said, "I think we want to underscore to Gadhafi that the foot is not going to come off the gas pedal," adding, "leaving is in his best interests and the best interest of the Libyan people."

The U.S. administration bolstered the standing of the rebel National Transnational Council by calling it a "legitimate and representative and credible" body and extending an invitation yesterday for it to set up a representative office in Washington. The overture stopped short of formal recognition.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible interim council that is committed to democratic principles, their military forces are improving, and when Gadhafi inevitably leaves, a new Libya stands ready to move forward."

The international community has stepped up both the air campaign and diplomatic efforts against the regime in a bid to break a virtual stalemate between the rebels in the east and Gadhafi, who maintains a stranglehold on most of the west.

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