EU policy chief in rebel stronghold, NATO bomb Kadhafi HQ

Ashton is due to meet the head of the rebels' National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdul Jalil before inaugurating the EU mission in a Benghazi hotel, an AFP correspondent said.

"It is very important to be opening the EU Office in Benghazi which I announced to the European Parliament," Ashton said in a statement released by her office.

"It will be an honour to meet the people who have been fighting for democracy and a better future for Libya," she added.

"Opening an EU Office is an important signal of our support for the Libyan people. It is the EU putting words into action."

Ashton's visit is a new boost for the rebels who have been lobbying world powers to formally recognise their interim council as the European Union's top diplomat arrived in the rebel bastion of Benghazi to step up support for the insurgency.

The European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, meanwhile, arrived Sunday in the eastern rebel-held city of Benghazi to open a European Union mission, an AFP correspondent reported.

Ashton is due to meet the head of the rebels' National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdul Jalil before inaugurating the EU mission in a Benghazi hotel.

Just hours ahead of Ashton's visit NATO-led warplanes struck the Tripoli port and Kadhafi's immense compound of Bab al-Aziziya near the capital.

"There were two raids on the port and Bab Al-Aziziya", the residence of Kadhafi which has already been targeted several times, a Libyan regime official said about today's early NATO strikes.

An AFP journalist too heard two explosions just past midnight and a fighter plane flying over Tripoli at low altitude, indicating NATO's sustained air campaign against Kadhafi forces.

International correspondents were taken to Kadhafi's residence in a regime-chartered bus but unable to access the compound. "They're expecting new raids, we don't have permission to go in," said after speaking to guards.

NATO took command of the air campaign on March 30 from French, US and British forces, who under a UN mandate launched air strikes on Kadhafi forces after they began crushing a rebellion against the strongman's more than 40-year authoritarian rule.

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