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Luis Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine lawyer, said he had evidence of ''widespread'' rapes numbering more than 100 in at least one area

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says he is gathering evidence that may lead to charging the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, with ordering the systematic rape of women considered enemies of his regime.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine lawyer, said he had evidence of ''widespread'' rapes numbering more than 100 in at least one area, and of the government distributing drugs that enhance sexual performance.

''This is new,'' he told reporters at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday. ''We are getting information that Gaddafi himself decided to rape. This was never a pattern he used to control the population.''
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Mr Moreno-Ocampo said he would likely request that rape be added to the charges included in the arrest warrant he presented to the Hague-based court's pretrial chamber on May 16. He would wait to file the additional charge until the judges rule on his call for the arrest of Colonel Gaddafi, his son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and Abdullah el-Sanussi, a Libyan security official.

The charge of rape was not included in his initial arrest warrant because of a lack of evidence tracing the policy to Colonel Gaddafi.

''He decided to punish using rapes, which in the Libya tradition is really something very bad, beyond the limits,'' Mr Moreno-Ocampo said.

Months of clashes between Colonel Gaddafi's troops and opposition forces in Libya have killed thousands of people and helped push up oil prices.

Yesterday morning loud explosions rocked the Libyan capital, Tripoli, near the residence of Colonel Gaddafi, followed 15 minutes later by a stronger explosion near a hotel housing foreign journalists.

The day before NATO had pounded Tripoli with more than 60 bombs, killing 31 people and causing dozens of injuries, a spokesman for the regime said.

These explosions came after up to 3000 Gaddafi troops attacked Libya's third-largest city, Misrata, a rebel spokesman, Hassan al-Galai, told Agence France-Presse.

Britain has warned the rebels NATO is prepared to use force against them if they attack civilians loyal to Colonel Gaddafi. Yet officials said the National Transitional Council, which represents the rebel movements, had given assurances they would not punish government sympathisers in the aftermath of victory.

The latest developments occurred as global powers gathered for talks on mapping out a democratic future for the nation.



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