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THE HAGUE/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The world's top war crimes prosecutor sought an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, accusing him of killing protesters who want an end to end his four-decade rule.
International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also asked judges, who must now see if there is enough evidence to issue warrants, for the arrest of Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam and his spy chief brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi.
In the uprising, civilians were attacked at home, protests were suppressed using live ammunition, heavy artillery was used against funeral processions and snipers deployed to kill people leaving mosques after prayers, the prosecutor said on Monday.
"We have strong evidence, so strong evidence," Moreno-Ocampo said, adding: "We are almost ready for trial ... Gaddafi ruled Libya through fear and Libyans are losing that fear now."
The prosecutor's office had received calls from senior officials in the Gaddafi government in the past week to provide information. Prosecutors spoke with eyewitnesses to attacks and assessed evidence from 1,200 documents, plus videos and photos.
Arab television channels reported late on Monday that Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation, had defected. It was not possible to verify the reports immediately and Libyan officials in Tripoli were not available for comment.
Al Arabiya television quoted sources in the rebel Transitional National Council as saying that Ghanem had defected and joined rebel ranks. Al Jazeera reported he had defected and left Libya, without giving details.
Thousands have been killed in the conflict in the North African state, the bloodiest of the revolts which have convulsed the region in what has been called the "Arab Spring."
NATO, which has been hitting targets in Libya for nearly two months, appeared to step up its bombing campaign on Monday with strikes in several towns and cities including Tripoli, according to Libyan state television and rebels.
On the diplomatic front, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the United Nations was working on the removal of Gaddafi to exile to make way for a new government, and a Libyan government delegation was expected in Moscow on Tuesday.
Libyan officials have denied killing civilians, saying instead they were forced to take action against criminal armed gangs and al Qaeda militants. They say the NATO bombing campaign is an act of colonial aggression aimed at grabbing Libya's oil.
Moreno-Ocampo said persecution was still taking place in areas under Gaddafi's control with forces arresting, imprisoning and torturing alleged dissidents. Some had disappeared.
Prosecutors are also investigating reports of mass rapes, war crimes committed by different parties and attacks against sub-Saharan Africans wrongly seen as mercenaries once the Libyan situation developed into an armed conflict.
Libyan officials have already denounced the ICC, saying the court is a creation of the West for prosecuting African leaders. The Libyan rebel council has welcomed the move.
State-run television in Libya reported there were NATO strikes on Tripoli, the town of Zawiyah about 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital, the western Tripoli suburb of Tajoura, and on the town of Zuara, 120 km west of Tripoli on Monday.
In each case strikes hit military and civilian targets and caused "material and human losses," it said.
A rebel spokesman in the town of Zintan, in the Western mountains region southwest of Tripoli, told Reuters by telephone that NATO had been hitting government weapons depots about 30 km from the town.
Reporting by Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Peter Apps in London, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Sami Aboudi in Cairo; Writing by Peter Millership and Sylvia Westall; editing by David Stamp