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NATO attacks Libyan navy

Air strikes also targeted desert command posts.

TRIPOLI, Libya - NATO widened its campaign to weaken Moammar Gadhafi's regime, launching air strikes on desert command centers and sea patrols to intercept ships, the military alliance said Saturday amid signs of growing public anger over fuel shortages in government-held territory.

In the coastal town of Zawiya, crowds apparently outraged by dwindling fuel supplies tried to stab reporters in a minibus on a state-supervised trip to the Tunisian border.

The journalists - a Chinese news correspondent and two Britons, a BBC technician and a Reuters video producer - were not harmed in the attack, the first of its kind targeting foreign reporters covering the Libyan conflict.

The assailants also attacked the government official accompanying the reporters - once unimaginable in Libya and a sign of the growing frustrations of residents struggling to cope with rising food prices and gasoline shortages.

Gadhafi has remained defiant against the widening NATO attacks and world pressure to step down.

At the same time, however, NATO has come under increasing criticism that it is overstepping the U.N. Security Council's mandate, which provides for the protection of civilians but not for wider attacks. The Pan African Parliament, the legislative body of the African Union, plans an emergency session this week to discuss what it calls NATO's "military aggression."

The latest reported NATO raids targeted the Tripoli port early Saturday, Libyan government spokesman Ibrahim Uthman said. It was the second time the port was struck in two days.

Another government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said a strike early Saturday hit the heavily fortified Gadhafi compound.

On Friday, NATO also struck a facility near the capital and a command and control hub near Sebha, a Gadhafi stronghold deep in Libya's southwestern desert, a NATO statement said in Brussels, Belgium. Three surface-to-air missile launchers were hit near the government-held town of Sirte, as were three rocket launchers near the rebel-held town of Zintan in the mountains south of Tripoli.

On Friday, NATO warplanes bombed eight Libyan naval vessels in three ports, leaving ships partially sunken and charred and showering docks with debris in the military alliance's broadest attack on Gadhafi's navy.

NATO spokesman Wing Cmdr. Mike Bracken said the vessels were "legitimate and legal targets" because the Libyan navy had tried to mine the harbor at the rebel-held port of Misrata and had tried to carry out attacks on shipping.

A NATO task force has also boarded 47 vessels - including one on Friday - and seven ships suspected of carrying arms have been diverted since mid-March.

The attack on the foreign journalists took place as their vehicle was caught in a traffic jam caused by miles-long lines of cars waiting for days for fuel, the journalists said.

Men from the fuel line smashed the bus door and approached the three reporters with a knife, and two others brandished pistols.

They demanded to know where the reporters were from and accused them of recording video of the gas line. Attackers slashed the bus tires in an attempt to prevent the reporters from fleeing.

Several plainclothes security agents fired into the air to drive back the crowd. Another security man boarded the bus and pushed out the attackers.