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Libyan army 'marching to cleanse country': spokesman

France says to speed up its efforts against Gaddafi

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are "marching to cleanse the country" of insurgents, military spokesman Colonel Milad Hussein told a press conference Sunday as France said it would speed up its efforts against the regime in Tripoli.

Hussein repeated Gaddafi’s description of the opposition fighters as Al-Qaeda militants who were trained abroad and vowed to “purge the rest of Libya.”

Forces loyal to Gaddafi recaptured Zawiyah on Wednesday after a fierce attack on the closest rebel-held city to the capital Tripoli, residents said.

Libyan state television showed footage of Gaddafi supporters waving flags in what it said was a celebratory march in Zawiyah and a rebel fighter told Reuters pro-Gaddafi forces had driven rebels from their stronghold in the central square.

A local doctor confirmed the report and said the death toll in the day's fighting was at least 40 and probably many more.

"We have pulled back and they are inside the square but we will attack them again and have it back," the Opposition fighter said by telephone. "We will do that tonight. This is not the end."

The doctor said many dead lay in the streets, including old people, women and children.

A witness from Zawiyah told Al Arabiya television there was a new, heavy bombardment on Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, Libyan state television said on Sunday that an Arab League resolution calling on the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya was "an unacceptable departure" from the body's charter.

The resolution was issued on Saturday by an Arab League ministerial meeting in Cairo. The League has suspended Libya over its crackdown on an uprising against Gaddafi's rule. The body said on Saturday the Libyan government's "crimes" had stripped it of legitimacy.

A counter-offensive by Gaddafi, almost three weeks after an uprising began against him in eastern Libya, has halted the rebels' advance in the east and left others stranded in Zawiyah and another western city, Misrata.

We have pulled back and they are inside the square but we will attack them again and have it back

An Opposition fighter

G8 powers will seek to agree action on the conflict in Libya at a meeting of their foreign ministers on Monday and Tuesday, with host France pushing to speed up plans for a no-fly zone there.

Amid divisions over calls for foreign military intervention, diplomats said the Group of Eight will take stock of efforts by France and Britain for a UN Security Council resolution on a zone to block Libyan pro-regime aircraft.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will join counterparts from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. All the Council's permanent members except China will be represented.

Britain and France have a draft resolution in hand for the Security Council to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya which received backing on Saturday from the 22-nation Arab League, considered crucial for dealing with the region.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Sunday France was going to "speed up its efforts in the coming hours" along with the EU, Arab League, UN Security Council and the Libyan National Transition Council, Libya's opposition.

"The situation in Libya will be discussed" at the G8 meeting, he said in a statement.

Russia and China have appeared reluctant to back the no-fly zone while the United States, Germany and Italy have taken a cautious line on intervention, which Washington and the European Union say can only happen with a UN mandate.

But Lavrov said last week that Russia would give a fair hearing to proposals for a no-fly zone, saying Moscow's approval depended on how the system would work and on the humanitarian situation.

US worried

Wary of the anti-American fury that the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan caused among Arabs, U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday he was gauging regional support for a no-fly zone.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday that it remained unclear if it would be a "wise" move.

Crisis meetings in Brussels have exposed an EU rift over how to force the Libyan leader out, with France calling for targeted airstrikes if Gaddafi bombs his people.

At a summit on Friday, European leaders agreed Gaddafi must go, but their closing statement made no mention of a no-fly zone and Sarkozy's proposals for targeted action against the Libyan strongman went unheeded.

They agreed to talk to Gaddafi's opponents and protect Libyan civilians "by all necessary means" but stopped short of an outright military threat.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged partners to formally recognize Libya's opposition, as the Arab League has done, while working on contingency planning for military action.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one of Gaddafis closest partners and whose country has strong historical and economic ties with Tripoli, predicted Gaddafi would never give in for fear of facing international justice.

In the no-fly zone, U.S. and NATO warplanes would ground Gaddafi's air power in order to protect civilians and the opposition. Experts say hundreds of planes would be needed to police the skies over Libya's vast territory.

Diplomats who asked not to be named told AFP the G8 ministers would also discuss Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan -- represented by its new Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto.

They will also look at other crises in countries such as Somalia, Ivory Coast and Sudan, as well as the Middle East and global drug-trafficking.

Sarkozy is due to meet the ministers on Monday before a working dinner hosted by Juppe ahead of their full meeting and news conferences on Tuesday.