Judges Sanji Mmasenono Monageng (C), Sylvia Steiner (L) and Cuno Tarfusser (R) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) attend a meeting about Libya in The Hague on June 27, 2011. – Photo by AFP

THE HAGUE: International judges ordered the arrest of Moammar Qadhafi on Monday for murdering Libyan civilians who rose up against him, as Nato warplanes pounded his Tripoli compound and world leaders stepped up calls for the Libyan leader to resign.

The International Criminal Court said Qadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam Qadhafi and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi are wanted for orchestrating the killing, injuring, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of an uprising to topple Qadhafi from power, and for trying to cover up their alleged crimes.

The warrants from The Hague court turn the three men into internationally wanted suspects, potentially complicating efforts to mediate an end to more than four months of intense fighting in the North African nation. The warrants will be sent to Libya, where Qadhafi remains defiantly entrenched.

Presiding judge Sanji Monageng of Botswana called Qadhafi the ''undisputed leader of Libya'' who had ''absolute, ultimate and unquestioned control'' over his country's military and security forces. She said prosecutors presented evidence showing that following popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Qadhafi and his inner circle plotted a ''state policy ... aimed at deterring and quelling by any means _ including by the use of lethal force _ demonstrations by civilians against the regime.''

Hundreds of civilians were killed, injured or arrested, she said, adding there were ''reasonable grounds to believe'' that Qadhafi and his son were both responsible for the murder and persecution of civilians.

Prosecutors said the three suspects should be arrested quickly ''to prevent them covering up ongoing crimes and committing new crimes.''

Qadhafi's regime rejected the court's authority even before the decision was read, accusing the court of unfairly targeting Africans while ignoring what it called crimes committed by Nato in Afghanistan, Iraq ''and in Libya now.''

''The ICC has no legitimacy whatsoever ... all of its activities are directed at African leaders,'' Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday.

Rebels welcomed the court's action, but appeared divided about where Qadhafi should ultimately stand trial.

Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, head of the Benghazi Interim Council, said rebels would ''welcome all assistance from the friendly countries'' to help arrest the Libyan leader, and said: ''We will hand Qadhafi to (the) ICC.''

Mohammed al-Alaqi, justice minister in the Libyan rebel administration, picked up a copy of the warrant from the court, but suggested Qadhafi could be prosecuted in Libya ''under the standards of this court.''

He also hoped the warrants would persuade Qadhafi's forces to defect.

''Maybe this decision will make the military brigades change their minds, because Qadhafi and his son have no future at all,'' he said.

In Brussels, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the court's decision highlighted the increasing isolation of the Qadhafi's regime.

''It reinforces the reason for Nato's mission, to protect the Libyan people from Qadhafi's forces,'' he said Monday, adding that the Libyan leader and his supporters need to realize that ''time is rapidly running out for them.''

Nato air forces have been conducting daily air strikes against military targets in Libya for the past 100 days _ a bombing campaign that has drawn increasing international criticism.

In Tripoli, two loud explosions shook the area near Qadhafi's compound Monday, setting off a chorus of emergency sirens in the Libyan capital. Libyan officials said Nato fired two missiles targeting Qadhafi's personal bus, about 100 yards (meters) from the human shields the Libyan government keeps inside Qadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound.

Journalists were taken to see a heavily damaged, burnt-out bus inside the compound two hours after the strike. It didn't appear to have been struck recently, however, since it was cool to the touch. No one was reported killed in the strike, though officials said two people were slightly injured.

A coalition including France, Britain and the United States began striking Qadhafi's forces under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians on March 19. Nato assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on March 31 and is joined by a number of Arab allies.

European nations praised the warrants.

''Qadhafi is now a fugitive from international justice,'' British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons. ''The pressure and the time is telling on Qadhafi, and we will not let up until the job is done.''

In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said ''after 41 years of dictatorship, it is perhaps time to stop, for him to leave power.''

The Foreign Ministry of Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler, said the warrants confirmed that Qadhafi had ''lost all legitimacy, political and moral.''

''As such, he can have no role to play in Libya's future,'' it said.


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