Cairo: In one of the bloodiest days of fighting in Libya since the uprising which started weeks ago, 74 people were found dead as the country plunged into a civil war with see-saw battles going on between Muammar Gaddafi loyalists and rebels for territorial gains.

Meanwhile, the country's opposition held its first conclave apparently to form a parallel government. The efforts to form a self-declared national-council comes as US and western countries as well as world bodies have virtually derecognised the Gaddafi regime and Interpol has issued warrants against him and his family for genocide.

Rebels say that they have formed local councils in cities they control in the eastern region with an aim to lead the nation into election, local media reports said.

As ding-dong heavy battles and explosions continue across the country, the US and NATO forces’ warships and fighters were positioned of the strife torn country's coast.

US President Barack Obama has said that the primary mission of the task force is to undertake humanitarian evacuation, "but all options were on the table."

While Gaddafi's forces using tanks and heavy artillery tried to retake towns in the country's oil-rich east, where the rebellion has left them without space, the rebels beat back attacks on the key town of al-Zawiyah, close to the capital Tripoli and overran oil town of Ras Lanuf.

At least 10 people have been killed and 20 injured in Ras Lanuf, where Libyan rebels are locked in intense fighting with the forces loyal to 68-year-old-Gaddafi. Media reports said rebels were witnessed manning the oil-compounds, police stations and army-barracks in the oil-rich town.

More than 20 people were injured in Ajdabiya where fresh fighting’s between the rebels and Gaddafi forces have erupted.

In another development, explosions at a military arms depot outside the rebel-held city of Benghazi, which took place minutes apart, left at least 34 people dead and dozens injured, reports reaching here said.

Residence living upto 10 kms from the main weapons depot said windows shook and an inferno lit up the sky. The cause of the explosion was not immediately known, but rebels said it could have been caused by air-raids or enemy agents.

Eyewitnesses quoted by al-Jazeera said that Gaddafi's forces in their desperate bid to widen the security belt around Tripoli made three advances to capture al-Zawiyah, even training tanks on residential buildings.

A news channel said more than 30 people were killed when 15 tanks and lorry loads of Gaddafi loyalists swarmed into the town, getting into street fighting with the rebels.

"They came from the east and west and occupied high rise buildings," media agencies quoted a rebel fighter as saying, who claimed that Gaddafi's forces have been repelled.

"There tanks almost reached the city-square before they were bombed off," the fighter said.

The rebellion in al Zawiyah - the closest rebel-held territory to Gaddafi's bastion of Tripoli and also the site of an oil refinery - has been an embarrassment to the Libyan authorities who are trying hard to demonstrate that they control at least the west of the country.

Eastern regions of the country, around the city of Benghazi, have already fallen out of Gaddafi's control after a popular revolt against his 41-year rule which began in mid-February.

Amid the heavy fighting the Libyan opposition announced that it held its first formal meeting at a secret location apparently to announce a parallel government.

Gaddafi's warplanes had earlier attacked military bases overrun by rebels, though they had missed their targets.

Earlier yesterday, clashes briefly erupted after the Friday prayers in the capital Tripoli.

Braving the large presence of gun-totting security personnel and mercenaries, over 1,000 protesters hit the streets in large numbers after the Friday prayers, demanding ouster of the Libyan ruler and chanting slogans like "Gaddafi is the enemy of God", witnesses said.

They were tear-gassed and fired upon by the forces loyal to Gaddafi.

Media reports said the protesters tore down posters of the Libyan leader and spray-painted walls with graffiti such as: "Down with Gaddafi" and "Tajoura will dig your grave."

For the first time since the uprising began on February 15, Interpol issued an Orange Notice against Gaddafi and 15 other Libyans, including members of his family and close associates.

The Interpol alert is aimed at ensuring that law enforcement agencies in each of the world police bodies in 188-member countries take all necessary measures to enforce travel ban against the Libyan leader and others.

There were also conflicting reports about the situation in Brega. Some government sources were quoted as saying that the town was in rebel hands, while others insisted it was not.

In Caracas, Venezuela's Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said that Libya has given go-ahead to his country to form a mission to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the North African country, a day after the US and France rejected the Venezuelan mediation offer.

Meanwhile, the United States dispatched its two military aircraft – under a code name 'Operation Odyssey Dawn'-- to Tunisia border last evening with relief supplies for thousands of foreigners fleeing Libya.


New Delhi: Expressing reservation over consensual sex with children aged between 16-18 years is not a criminal offence, Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath on Saturday said she has taken up the issue with the Home Ministry.

The minister said, "We have talked to the Home Ministry that if the marriageable age in India is 18 and this is the age when one attains maturity, why should sex from 16-18 not be considered a crime. I do not agree to it (the provisions of the bill)."

The minister expressed her opinion on the sidelines of a function of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) here.

The Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill, 2011 provides for legalising consensual sex with a person aged between 16 and 18 years. The new law, when enacted, will cover all new aspects of sexual offences against children not covered elsewhere.

Tirath also welcomed the increase in monthly remuneration of Anganwadi workers from Rs 500 to Rs 3,000 in the recent budget.

Keen on increasing the number of State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the minister said, "We have constantly asked the states to have SCPCRs as only 11 states have it as of now."

The proposed bill aims at protecting children against offences of sexual assault and harassment, pornography and provides for establishment of special courts for trial of such offences.

The bill, which was approved by the Union Cabinet for being tabled in Parliament on March 3, also provides for a jail term up to 10 years or even life imprisonment.

(Agencies)