* Reporters shown alleged air strike victims
* Hopsital staff challenge government version
By Peter Graff
TRIPOLI, June 5 (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s aides brought foreign media to a hospital on Sunday to see a baby they described as a wounded victim of a NATO air strike.
But a hospital staff member, in a note passed to a journalist, said the infant was in fact injured in a car accident.
Government media handlers brought reporters first to a farm on the outskirts of the city, where a man said his dog and several chickens had been killed by a missile strike on Sunday.
The man said no people were injured, although other people in the area later told some journalists they had heard children were hurt.
The journalists were then brought to a hospital in the centre of the capital and taken to the bed of an unconscious infant girl hooked up to medical equipment.
A man appeared at the bedside and said he was the girl’s uncle, and she had been injured in Sunday’s missile strike.
However, a member of the hospital staff passed one of the foreign journalists a handwritten note on hospital stationery, which said in English: “This is a case of road traffic accident. This is the truth.”
No uniformed member of the hospital staff spoke to the journalists.
At the hospital, a man in civilian clothes — presented to cameras as a neighbour of the injured girl — leaned over her, shouted “God, Muammar, Libya and that’s all!”, a common pro-Gaddafi slogan, and denounced NATO.
The same man was present later that night at a separate media event, where he acknowledged to Reuters that he was employed by the Gaddafi government’s media operations team.
Gaddafi’s government says more than 700 civilians have been killed and more than 4,000 wounded by NATO air strikes. However, the media team has not shown foreign reporters based in Tripoli any evidence of large numbers of civilian casualties.
Libyan officials were not available to comment on the hospital staff member’s note, or their representation of a member of their media staff as a neighbour of the injured girl. Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim’s telephone was not answered.
NATO leaders say they are bombing only military targets in Libya to protect civilians, and will not stop until Gaddafi steps down. Gaddafi’s government says the air strikes are colonial aggression aimed at controlling Libya’s oil reserves.