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Libya says NATO strikes targeted state broadcaster

By Jomana Karadsheh and Ivan Watson, CNN
In a photo from May, Libyan state TV shows leader Moammar Gadhafi in what it said was a meeting with eastern tribal dignitaries. NATO acknowledged trying to silence Gadhafi's broadcasts.
In a photo from May, Libyan state TV shows leader Moammar Gadhafi in what it said was a meeting with eastern tribal dignitaries. NATO acknowledged trying to silence Gadhafi's broadcasts.
  • The Tripoli strikes killed three people, Libyan officials say
  • State TV chief calls it an "act of international terrorism"
  • NATO took responsibility for the raid
  • It says it was in line with a U.N. mandate

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- NATO strikes killed three employees of Libya's state broadcaster in Tripoli Saturday and wounded 15 others, Libyan officials said.

The pre-dawn strike targeted the facilities of the Libyan Broadcasting Authority, said Khaled Bazelya, the director of state television's English channel.

He described the attack as "an act of international terrorism" and a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

NATO claimed responsibility for the bombing raid on state television headquarters. Just a few hours after the attack, the alliance said it was aimed at "silencing (Moammar) Gadhafi's terror broadcasts."

The precision air strike disabled three Libyan state TV satellite transmission dishes in Tripoli, NATO said.

"The strike, performed by NATO fighter aircraft using state-of-the art precision guided munitions, was conducted in accordance with the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, with the intent of degrading Gadhafi's use of satellite television as a means to intimidate the Libyan people and incite acts of violence against them."

Bazelya spoke to international reporters at brief news conference surrounded by state television employees, just hours after the Libyan capital was pounded by a rare, day-time round of airstrikes.

Bazelya appealed to the international community for protection of Libyan journalists and said working for the Libyan government does not make them a legitimate target.

"We are the employees of the official Libyan TV," he said. "We are not a military target, we are not commanders in the army and we do not pose a threat to civilians. We are performing our job as journalists representing what we wholeheartedly believe is the reality of NATO's aggression and the violence in Libya."

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NATO jets struck three buildings within the broadcaster's compound, he said.

NATO did not report casualties.

"After due consideration and careful planning to minimize the risks of casualties or long-term damage to television transmission capabilities, NATO performed the strike and we are now in the process of assessing its effect," NATO said.

Since the war's start more than five months ago, state media has played a key role in a campaign to rally popular support for Gadhafi's embattled regime.

Continuous broadcasts highlight pro-Gadhafi rallies, often urging supporters to join in daily mass demonstrations organized by the government.

Every night, television presenters broadcast from makeshift studios in the basement of a hotel housing the dwindling and carefully-controlled foreign press contingent in Tripoli.

Libyan broadcasters defend the regime, condemn NATO, and sometimes denounce what they say is a biased campaign by the foreign media against the government in Tripoli.

"Gadhafi's increasing practice of inflammatory broadcasts illustrates his regime's policy to instill hatred amongst Libyans, to mobilize its supporters against civilians and to trigger bloodshed" NATO said.

Despite Saturday's bombings, there appeared to be no interruption in the broadcast of pro-Gadhafi television channels.

Libya has never had a free press, according to international media watchdogs. In 2010, the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders listed Libya 160 out of 178 countries on its press freedoms index.

"Before the 2011 uprising in eastern Libya, nearly all the country's media outlets were state-controlled or tied to Moammar Gadhafi," the group wrote in a more recent report.

"The mainstream media have long been under his control and now the regime is trying to completely stifle the news in a bid to crush the revolt and the reporting of its repression," it said.

Access to the internet as well as mobile phone text messaging have been virtually shut down in Tripoli since anti-government protests erupted last February.