Obama chided on Libya, China meets rebels

China is acknowledging for the first time contact with Libya's rebels, as US lawmakers chided President Barack Obamafor failing to obtain congressional approval of military action.

The United States and the United Nations on Friday slammed Qatar's deportation of a Libyan woman who alleged she had been raped by soldiers loyal to Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi.

Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said a Chinese diplomat has met with the leader of Libya's opposition to discuss the conflict in the oil-rich nation.

China's ambassador to Qatar, Zhang Zhiliang, held talks with Mustapha Abdul Jalil of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) in recent days.

"The two sides exchanged views on the Libyan situation," Hong said.

"China's position on the Libyan issue is clear -- we hope that the Libyan crisis can be resolved through political means and that the future of Libya is decided by the Libyan people."

The statement did not say when or where the meeting took place.

The announcement of talks between China, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, and the rebel leadership came as explosions rattled Tripoli overnight into Friday and Russia prepared to send an envoy to mediate the conflict.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow would send an envoy to Tripoli and the rebels' capital of Benghazi to mediate, the Italian news agency ANSA reported, quoting diplomats.

"We would like as much as possible for the problem to be resolved through negotiations and not by military means," Medvedev said.

Kadhafi's forces are embroiled in a battle with rebels looking to put an end to his more than four decades in power.

The US House of Representatives, meanwhile, approved on a 268-145 vote a resolution that rebuked Obama for maintaining a role in the NATO mission while ignoring Congress, but stopped short of calling for an end to the mission.

The measure calls for a report from the White House within 14 days explaining US objectives in Libya, associated costs, the expected duration of US involvement and an explanation about why Obama didn't seek congressional permission.

It warned that Congress "has the constitutional prerogative to withhold funding for any unauthorized use" of the US military.

Another bill seeking a withdrawal of US forces involved in the NATO mission within 15 days of passage failed 265-148, with 87 Republicans voting in favor.

Washington accused Qatar of violating humanitarian norms by deporting to Benghazi Libyan woman Iman al-Obeidi, who charged she had been raped by Kadhafi's soldiers.

US officials had repeatedly asked the Qatari government to allow "travel with UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees) officials to a safe third country," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

"So we were disappointed at her forced return (to Libya), and we believe it's a breach of humanitarian norms."

In Geneva, the UNHCR also slammed Qatar's decision to send Obeidi back to Libya, saying it "violates international law."

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said Obeidi is a recognised refugee and that UNHCR officials were at the hotel where she was staying, ready to accompany her to get on to a flight for Romania.

"She was prevented from leaving for this flight in the early hours of Thursday morning, said the spokesman.

Obeidi attracted international media attention when she stormed into Tripoli's Rixos hotel on March 26, threw open her coat to reveal scars and bruises on her body to expose her ordeal.

But as she screamed: "Film me, film me, show the whole world all they did to me," she was dragged off by security guards amid scenes of mayhem as journalists were shoved aside while trying to intervene.

A Libyan rebel official told AFP last month that Obeidi had escaped from Libya to Qatar with the help of rebels.

Off the Tunisian coast, up to 270 migrants were missing after a ship packed with refugees fleeing Libya and headed for Italy capsized, Tunisian authorities said.

Army and coastguard teams lifted 570 people off the overcrowded vessel after it ran aground and capsized near Tunisia's Kerkennah islands on Wednesday.

But between 200 and 270 were still missing after they tried to scramble aboard a flotilla of rescue boats, Tunisia's official TAP news agency said.

The Tunisian coastguard said it had recovered two bodies, dismissing claims by the Red Crescent that 123 bodies had been fished from the sea.


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