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Many dead in battle for Libya town

Many people are reported to have been killed in renewed fighting as pro-democracy fighters repelled an attack on the eastern Libyan city of Ajdabiya by forces loyal to longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.

A Reuters news agency correspondent said he had seen at least 15 charred bodies next to vehicles belonging to Gaddafi's forces which had been targeted by a NATO air strike outside the city.

The news agency also quoted an anti-Gaddafi fighter as saying that he saw the bodies of at least four opposition fighters on the road side.

Meanwhile, the commander of NATO's operation over Libya said alliance air strikes have destroyed 25 of the Libyan regime's tanks near the cities of Ajdabiya and Misurata.

Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard says the strikes were necessary because civilians were being shelled by Gaddafi's troops.

"To help protect these civilians we continue to strike these forces hard, with 11 tanks destroyed today as they approached Ajdabiya and 14 tanks destroyed earlier this morning in the outskirts of Misurata.''

Residents fleeing

Misurata, Libya's third largest city, has been under siege by Gaddafi's forces for weeks. Rebels say people are crammed five families to a house in the few safe districts to escape weeks of sniper, mortar and rocket fire.

There are severe shortages of food, water and medical supplies and hospitals are overflowing.

Residents used boats to flee to the eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday.

"There is not a word in the dictionary to describe this. 'Disaster' is not enough," Ali Spak, the captain of one of the ships, said.

"There is very bad destruction. This man [Gaddafi] is killing his own people. There's shelling everywhere, even on the people trying to leave. People need help,"  one man on the boat said.

Doctors said last week that 200 people had been killed in Misurata since fighting broke out there in late February.

The Red Cross on Saturday ferried emergency medical supplies and five staff for 300 people wounded in the city.

AU mediation bid

The renewed fighting comes as African Union mediators reiterated their appeal for "an immediate end to all hostilities" and proposed a transition period to adopt reforms.

The committee, headed by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, is expected to head to the opposition stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya later on Sunday.

The delegation also includes the leaders of Mali, Uganda, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The committee has been granted permission by NATO to enter Libya and to meet in Tripoli with Gaddafi. The AU delegation will also meet with the Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi on 10 and 11 April," said South African President Jacob Zuma.

A committee statement said it had decided to go along with a roadmap adopted in March, which calls for an end to hostilities, "diligent conveying of humanitarian aid" and "dialogue between the Libyan parties".

It also said it intended to propose "inclusive management" of a transition period aimed at adopting and setting up of "the political reforms needed to eliminate the causes of the present crisis."

Nabila Ramdani, a French journalist and Middle East expert, said the situation with regards to Libya had reached not only a military but also a political deadlock.

"It's quite worrying," she said. "Unfortunately, my view about the African Union is that it will appear as not being a credible group of people to be in a position to broker a deal on behalf of Gaddafi.

"They're a group of dictators themselves and they won't be taken very seriously, given that they're from very brutal regimes which are in many ways far worse than the Gaddafi regime."

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