TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO said Saturday it has begun ramping up its airstrikes on military targets in the western part of Libya, where rebel forces claim a string of advances through territory still largely under Moammar Gadhafi's control.
In a boost for Gadhafi, the African Union called on member states to disregard an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against the Libyan leader. That could enable Gadhafi to travel freely on the continent. The warrant was issued for his alleged role in a brutal crackdown on antigovernment protesters earlier this year.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim praised the AU's decision, saying "we salute their courage." He said Gadhafi had no immediate plans to leave the country, however.
While he gave no indication that Gadhafi was prepared to step down, Ibrahim said the government might agree to a deal that would constitutionally prevent the leader from having any direct political powers.
Gadhafi's regime is determined to stand firm against opposition fighters moving from southern and eastern fronts toward the capital, Tripoli. The rebels have largely solidified control over the eastern third of Libya but have struggled to push out of pockets they hold in the west.
NATO's comments about its latest airstrikes suggest the alliance is hoping to tip the balance further in the rebels' favor despite threats by Gadhafi to carry out attacks in Europe unless the airstrikes stop.
"We are engaging all military assets that are being used to indiscriminately target the civilian population throughout Libya," Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO's Libya mission, said in a statement sent Saturday but dated the previous day.
YEMENI TROOPS MISSING: Dozens of Yemeni troops disappeared after a battle with al-Qaida-linked militants at a sports stadium in the country's increasingly lawless south, a military official said Saturday, describing a new setback for a weakened regime already facing protesters demanding democratic reforms. Meanwhile, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been treated in a Saudi hospital since an attack on his palace a month ago, remains bedridden and has difficulty breathing and talking, Yemeni officials said, revealing new details about the extent of his injuries. His condition cast doubt on repeated claims by his aides that his return to Yemen is imminent.
SYRIAN GOVERNOR DISMISSED: Syrian President Bashar Assad fired Ahmad Khaled Abdul-Aziz, the governor who oversaw the city of Hama, on Saturday, a day after massive protests rocked the longtime center of opposition to his family's rule. Some observers speculated that the governor had been punished for being too lenient with the antigovernment protesters. But at the least it seemed likely that the firing was related to the turnout Friday in Hama, a city of more than 500,000 north of Damascus, the Syrian capital.
protest in Bahrain: Riot police in Bahrain fired tear gas at antigovernment protesters denouncing reconciliation talks between the gulf kingdom's Sunni rulers and the Shiite-led opposition on Saturday, just hours after the dialogue began.
JORDAN changes CABINET: With antigovernment demonstrations growing across Jordan in recent weeks, King Abdullah II approved a reshuffled of the Cabinet on Saturday that brought in a number of new officials, notably the interior minister. Thousands of Jordanians demonstrated Friday in the cities of Irbid, Maan, Karak and Tafileh, in addition to the capital, Amman.
Information from the Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and New York Times was used in this report.