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Gaddafi foes consider requesting foreign airstrikes as stalemate continues

Thousands who are fleeing Libya, many of them foreign workers, remain stuck on the Tunisian side of the border as they're having trouble getting back to their home countries. (March 1)

Responding to Gaddafi's remarks on NBC's "Today" show, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Tuesday: "Anytime you have somebody who laughs with American and international journalists while slaughtering his own people, I think they're not only delusional. One has to begin to question their grip on reality." She added that "we're dealing with somebody who is no longer, if ever was, fit to lead his nation and whose behavior is unpredictable and irrational."

Rice said the United States is in contact with "leaders of civil society" in Libya but is not backing any particular person. "We are not going to be in the business of picking leaders or dictating how that transition [to representative government] ought to evolve," she said. "And we're not anointing anybody a leadership position."

In an interview on CBS, Rice suggested that Gaddafi might consider exile. "It's important that he get off the stage," she said, adding that exile "may be an option that he looks at." But she said Gaddafi could still be subject to prosecution "for the crimes that he and those closest to him have committed."

With opposition groups in control of much of Libya's coast and edging close to Tripoli, fighting broke out Monday in Misurata, 125 miles east of Tripoli, when residents fired at a helicopter that was trying to destroy the antenna of the local radio station - an important communications tool for the opposition.

According to residents of the town and a witness account, the helicopter was armed with missiles, but flew away after opposition supporters opened fire. It was the third time in as many days that helicopters have attempted to attack the antenna or the radio station, residents said.

The residents were contacted by telephone and spoke on the condition of anonymity because they fear for their lives.

Though Misurata was overrun by protesters last Thursday, Gaddafi loyalists are still holding out at an airbase and a barracks on the edge of the town. There are daily attacks and counterattacks between the two sides, the residents say.

On Monday night, two people were killed and one was injured by sniper fire coming from the barracks, according to hospital officials, bringing to 34 the number killed in recent days. More than 300 have been wounded, the officials said.

A helicopter also attacked a military weapons depot Monday in Heniya, just outside Ajdabiya, a town about 100 miles south of Benghazi, said Idriss Sharif, an adviser to a committee that has come together to manage Benghazi.

A fighter pilot from the air force base in Benghazi, an opposition stronghold 600 miles east of the capital, said weapons and ammunition have been moved from storage units in case of a strike on the base. Over the past few days, the air force here has been setting up antiaircraft weapons to protect against airstrikes on the town, the center of resistance against Gaddafi's regime.

At 4 p.m. Monday, an airstrike hit just south of the airport, slamming into a weapons depot in Rajma village, said an official at the Benina airport, outside the city. Earlier in the day, fighter jets were circling over the airport but did not strike, the airport official said.

Sly reported from Cairo. Staff writer William Branigin in Washington and correspondent Anthony Faiola in Tunisia contributed to this report.

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