* NATO hits 25 Gaddafi tanks near Ajdabiyah, Misrata
* Rebels regain control of Ajdabiyah after shelling
* Second day of fighting for gateway to rebel stronghold
(Adds Gaddafi appearance, colour, quotes)
By Michael Georgy
AJDABIYAH, Libya, April 10 NATO aircraft
destroyed Libyan tanks on the outskirts of Ajdabiyah on Sunday,
helping to break a major assault by forces loyal to Muammar
Gaddafi on the strategic rebel town.
NATO said it had hit 11 tanks outside Ajdabiyah, which
Gaddafi's troops had earlier threatened to overrun, and 14 more
on the outskirts of Misrata, a lone rebel bastion in western
Libya which has been under siege for six weeks.
A Reuters reporter saw six burning hulks surrounded by 15
charred and dismembered bodies in two sites 300 metres (1,000
feet) apart on Ajdabiyah's western approaches.
"NATO has to do this to help us every single day. That is
the only way we are going to win this war," said 25-year-old
rebel Tarek Obeidy, standing over the bodies.
The rebels, who have long complained about what they see as
an ineffective NATO response to government attacks, applauded a
more muscular approach over the weekend.
More on Middle East unrest: [nTOPMEAST] [nLDE71O2CH]
Libya Graphics link.reuters.com/neg68r
Interactive graphic link.reuters.com/puk87r
Earlier, the rebels seemed to be losing control of Ajdabiyah
after the heaviest government assault for at least a week.
The attack, which began on Saturday, included a fierce
artillery and rocket bombardment while some of Gaddafi's forces,
including snipers, penetrated Ajdabiyah.
Rebels had for several hours cowered in alleyways in the
town, which is gateway to their stronghold of Benghazi 150 km
(90 miles) up the Mediterranean coast to the north.
The corpses of four rebels were found dumped on a roadside.
"Their throats were slit. They were all shot a few times in
the chest as well. I just could not stop crying when I saw
them," said rebel Muhammad Saad. "This is becoming tougher and
But by afternoon rebels looked back in control of Ajdabiyah,
commanding key intersections, and the artillery and small arms
fire had died down.
One rebel showed a Reuters reporter a big bloodstain in a
schoolroom where he said an Algerian sniper had hidden. He shot
himself in the neck when he was surrounded by insurgents, rebel
Hazim Ahmed said.
Rebels accuse Gaddafi of bolstering his army with foreign
Ajdabiyah had been the launch point for insurgents during a
week-long fight for the oil port of Brega 70 kms (45 miles)
further west, and its fall would be a serious loss.
Gaddafi, making his first appearance in front of the foreign
media in weeks, joined a visiting African Union delegation at
his Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli on Sunday.
Wearing a brown robe and turban, he emerged from a tent in
the compound where he receives guests and stood for a few
moments flanked by South African President Jacob Zuma and other
African leaders who are trying to mediate in the conflict.
He then climbed into a sports utility vehicle and was driven
about 50 metres (yards) where he waved through the sunroof and
made the "V" for victory sign to a crowd of cheering supporters.
The delegation, which also includes the leaders of
Mauritania, Congo, Mali and Uganda, will meet insurgent leaders
in Benghazi after talks with Gaddafi on Sunday.
It was Gaddafi's second appearance in two days after he
received an ecstatic welcome from children and adults at a
Tripoli school on Saturday.
The appearances, and Gaddafi's upbeat demeanour, confirmed
the impression among analysts that his circle has emerged from a
period of paralysis and is hunkering down for a long campaign.
LIMITS OF AIR POWER
Western officials have conceded their air power will not be
enough to help the rag-tag rebels overthrow Gaddafi by force and
they are now emphasising a political solution.
But a rebel spokesman rejected a negotiated outcome in the
conflict, the bloodiest in a series of pro-democracy revolts
across the Arab world that have already dethroned the autocratic
leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
"There is no other solution than the military solution,
because this dictator's language is annihilation, and people who
speak this language only understand this language," spokesman
Ahmad Bani told Al Jazeera television.
Analysts predict a drawn-out, low-level conflict possibly
leading to partition between east and west in the sprawling
North African Arab state, a major oil and natural gas producer.
Gaddafi's government sought to showcase a reform-friendly
face on Sunday, gathering foreign journalists in the early hours
of the morning to unveil a "Libyan version" of democracy.
Details were vague and officials could not explain what
Gaddafi's role would be, but it was clear he would continue to
play a leading role. Insurgents say they want democracy without
Gaddafi, who has ruled for 41 years.
The fight for Ajdabiyah followed pitched battles on Saturday
in Misrata when rebels fought off a heavy government assault.
One insurgent there said 30 fighters were killed but another
said there were eight confirmed dead and 10 unconfirmed.
Gaddafi's forces appear bent on seizing Misrata and
crucially its port, which some analysts say is vital if Gaddafi
is to survive because it supplies the capital Tripoli.
NATO's commander of Libyan operations said the alliance,
which took over air strikes against Gaddafi from three Western
powers on March 31, had destroyed "a significant percentage" of
Gaddafi's armour and ammunition stockpiles east of Tripoli.
Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard said after
Sunday's air attacks: "The situation in Ajdabiyah, and Misrata
in particular, is desperate for those Libyans who are being
brutally shelled by the (Gaddafi) regime."
(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina in Tripoli, Mariam
Karouny in Beirut, Richard Lough in Rabat, Christian Lowe in
Algiers, Stella Mapenzauswa in Johannesburg; Writing by Barry
Moody; Editing by Sophie Hares)