War crimes court opens Gadhafi, sons inquest

CAIRO — The International Criminal Court in The Hague opened a war crimes investigation into Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his sons Thursday amid growing reports of widespread human rights violations.

A prominent human rights group said it is tracking a worrisome pattern of arrests and disappearances of suspected regime opponents, and there were reports that Egyptian and Tunisian migrants in Libya were being attacked by Gadhafi loyalists angry that the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt had inspired anti-Gadhafi demonstrations there.

With Gadhafi's forces failing to recover key rebellious cities and towns, and with the ragtag rebel force of civilians and military defectors too weak and disorganized to advance on Gadhafi's Tripoli stronghold, the two-week conflict appeared to be devolving into a bloody impasse.

"There is a sense that there is a patchwork of control across Libya," said a U.S. official, who was tracking the crisis from Washington and requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly. "The real question is can the opposition break through to Tripoli, or can Gadhafi break out? The odds are that he is going to have a hard time reclaiming areas that he has lost."

Governments across the Middle East, meanwhile, braced for what were expected to be massive pro-reform protests after mosques empty today, the Muslim day of prayer.

In an apparent bid to placate expected protesters in Cairo, Egypt's military rulers on Thursday announced the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq, a former general who was named to his post by ousted president Hosni Mubarak. His replacement, Essam Sharaf, is a college professor and a former transportation minister.

In The Hague, Netherlands, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced the opening of an investigation into allegations that Gadhafi and his inner circle had committed crimes in unleashing their forces against unarmed protesters in the early days of Libya's insurrection.

"No one has the authority to attack and massacre civilians. As soon as someone commits crimes, this is our business to investigate it and try and stop it," Louis Moreno-Ocampo said.