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Gaddafi offers truce and negotiations in Libya but no sign of stepping down

Appearing on state television, the Libyan leader was more conciliatory than usual but NATO’s airstrikes continued in the capital of Tripoli as pro-Gaddafi forces continued to shell the besieged city of Misrata.

A previous Gaddafi state TV appearance in March.
A previous Gaddafi state TV appearance in March.
Image: AP Photo/Libyan state television via APTN

LIBYAN LEADER MUAMMAR GADDAFI called for a mutual cease-fire and negotiations with NATO powers in a live speech on state TV early Saturday, just as NATO bombs struck a government complex in the Libyan capital.

The targeted compound included the state television building and a Libyan official alleged the strikes were meant to kill Gaddafi. However, the TV building was not damaged and Gaddafi spoke from an undisclosed location.

Since the start of the uprising against him in February, Gaddafi has made only infrequent public appearances. In his rambling pre-dawn speech, he appeared both subdued and defiant, repeatedly pausing as he flipped through handwritten notes.

The door to peace is open. You are the aggressors. We will negotiate with you. Come, France, Italy, U.K., America, come, we will negotiate with you. Why are you attacking us?

He said Libyans have the right to choose their own political system, but not under the threat of NATO bombings.

Rebel leaders have said they will only lay down their arms and begin talks on Libya’s future after Gaddafi and his sons, some of whom hold powerful positions in the country, step aside.

Gaddafi has repeatedly refused to resign.

Saturday’s pre-dawn air strikes targeted a government complex, and reporters visiting the scene were told two damaged buildings housed a commission for women and children and offices of parliamentary staff.

One of at least three bombs or missiles knocked down a huge part of a two-story Italian-style building. In another building, doors were blown out and ceiling tiles dropped to the ground. One missile hit the street outside the attorney general’s office, twisting a lamppost and gouging out a crater.

A policeman said three people were wounded, one seriously.

In his speech, Gaddafi lamented the air strikes, which began in mid-March under a UN mandate to protect Libyan civilians. The strikes have mainly hit Libyan military targets, but three did hit Gaddafi’s residential compound.

Why are you killing our children? Why are you destroying our infrastructure?

Just hours earlier, however, government forces shelled the besieged rebel city of Misrata, killing 15 people, including a 9-year-old boy, hospital doctors said. The city of 300,000 is the main rebel stronghold in western Libya and has been under siege for two months.

The port is Misrata’s only lifeline. On Friday, NATO foiled attempts by regime loyalists to close the only access route to Misrata, intercepting boats that were laying anti-ship mines in the waters around the port.

The regime signaled Friday that it is trying to block access to Misrata by sea.

Gaddafi’s forces have repeatedly shelled the port area and his ground troops are deployed on the outskirts of Misrata, after having been driven out of the downtown area by the rebels last week.

With the rebels holding much of eastern Libya, Gaddafi needs to consolidate his hold over the western half, including Misrata and a mountainous region on the border with Tunisia.

On Friday, fighting between rebels and regime loyalists over a key border crossing spilled over into Tunisia, drawing a sharp rebuke by Tunisian authorities.

The Foreign Ministry summoned Libya’s ambassador to convey its “most vigorous protests” for the “serious violations” at the Dhuheiba border area Thursday and Friday, a ministry statement said.

- AP

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