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NATO, Libyan rebel council reject Qaddafi’s offer for ceasefire, negotiations

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The Libyan opposition Transitional National Council (TNC) and NATO rejected Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s offer on Saturday for a ceasefire and negotiations.

“The time for compromise has passed,” said Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the transitional council that has shaped itself into a parallel government in the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi.

“The people of Libya cannot possibly envisage or accept a future Libya in which Qaddafi’s regime plays any role,” he added.

Mr. Ghoga’s remarks came hours after a defiant Qaddafi vowed in an early-morning speech on state television not to quit power in Libya but called for negotiation to end the conflict.

Meanwhile, NATO said it would continue air strikes on Colonel Qaddafi’s forces as long as civilians were threatened.

“We need to see actions, not words,” a NATO official told Reuters. “NATO will continue operations until all attacks and threats against civilians have ceased, until all of Qaddafi’s forces have returned to base and until there is a full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all people in need of assistance,” he said.

The military alliance, fulfilling a United Nations mandate to protect civilians during a bloody crackdown on an anti-government rebellion in Libya, has in the past rejected Mr. Qaddafi’s calls for truce.

“The regime has announced ceasefires several times before and continued attacking cities and civilians ... Any ceasefire must be credible and verifiable,” the NATO official said.

Colonel Qaddafi said in his speech that NATO “must abandon all hope of the departure of Muammar Qaddafi. I have no official functions to give up: I will not leave my country and will fight to the death.”

The speech was billed as one marking the centenary of a battle against Italian occupation forces. Contemporary Italy is part of a NATO military campaign against Colonel Qaddafi’s forces.
“We are ready to talk with France and the United States, but with no preconditions,” Mr. Qaddafi said.

“We will not surrender, but I call on you to negotiate. If you want petrol, we will sign contracts with your companies—it is not worth going to war over,” Colonel Qaddafi said. “Between Libyans, we can solve our problems without being attacked, so pull back your fleets and your planes.”

In a now-familiar refrain, he said that the rebels battling his forces “are terrorists who are not from Libya, but from Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Afghanistan,” adding that his people loved him.

“I am sacred to the Libyan people, I am a symbol and a father to them... more sacred than the emperor of Japan is to his people,” Mr. Qaddafi said. He did not add that, unlike Colonel Qaddafi, the position of Japan’s emperor is hereditary, whereas the Libyan came to power in putsch.

Initial reaction to Colonel Qaddafi’s speech suggested that his seemingly delusional rhetoric once again seemed to be a shrewd tactic to trigger another round of speculation about his motives—whether, in fact, he was trying to buy time in which to regroup and reenergize his forces for a fresh assault against pro-democracy rebels

Weeks of NATO air strikes have failed to dislodge the Libyan leader, but have instead created a stalemate on a war Colonel Qaddafi initially looked to have been winning. But the military situation is fluid now, with government forces held at bay in the east and around the besieged city of Misrata, while fighting rebels for control of the western mountains.

In his speech on Saturday, Colonel Qaddafi also denied mass attacks on civilians and challenged NATO to find him 1,000 people who had been killed in the conflict.

“We did not attack them or cross the sea ... why are they attacking us?” he said, referring to European countries involved in the air strikes. “Let us negotiate with you, the countries that attack us. Let us negotiate.”

Even as he spoke, NATO warplanes hit three targets close to the television building in Tripoli in what state media said was an attempt to kill the colonel who has ruled Libya for 41 years.

The air strikes left a large crater outside the attorney general’s office but did not damage the building and hit two other government offices housed in colonial-era buildings. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.

The Libyan leader’s forces showed no sign of giving up the fight either, claiming to have captured the port of the city of Misrata on Friday, the last major rebel outpost in western Libya, but NATO said it saw no evidence of that.

The sea port is a crucial conduit for humanitarian aid to the western city of half a million people about 215 kilometers (130 miles) east of Tripoli, which pro-Qaddafi forces have been trying to capture for more than seven weeks.

(Mustapha Ajbaili of Al Arabiya can be reached at: Mustapha.ajbaili@mbc.net. Sara Ghasemilee, also of Al Arabiya, can be reached via email at: sara.ghasemilee@mbc.net)