Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi said yesterday he was ready for a ceasefire and negotiations provided NATO “stop its planes,” but he refused to give up power as rebels and Western powers demand.
The insurgents and NATO rejected -Qaddafi’s offer, saying he had lost credibility and the time for compromise had passed.
Weeks of Western air strikes have failed to dislodge the Libyan leader, instead imposing a stalemate on a war Qaddafi looked to have been winning, with government forces held at bay in the east and around the besieged city of Misrata, while fighting for control of the western mountains.
With neither side apparently able to gain the upper hand, -Qaddafi struck a more conciliatory tone in an 80-minute televised address to the nation in the early hours yesterday.
“[Libya] is ready until now to enter a ceasefire,” Qaddafi said, speaking from behind a desk and aided by reams of paper covered in what appeared to be hand--written notes.
“We were the first to welcome a ceasefire and we were the first to accept a ceasefire ... but the Crusader NATO attack has not stopped,” he said. “The gate to peace is open.”
Qaddafi denied mass attacks on civilians and challenged NATO to find the 1,000 people who had been killed in the conflict.
“We did not attack them or cross the sea ... Why are they attacking us?” asked Qaddafi, referring to European countries involved in the air strikes. “Let us negotiate with you, the countries that attack us. Let us negotiate.”
However, 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 Qaddafi.
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.
In Brussels, a NATO official said that Libyan authorities had announced ceasefires several times before only to continue attacks on cities and civilians.
“We need to see actions, not words. Any ceasefire must be credible and verifiable,” the official said.
Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, spokesman for the rebel’s transitional national council, dismissed Qaddafi’s gesture, saying the Libyan leader had repeatedly offered truces, only to continue violating human rights.
“Qaddafi’s regime has lost all credibility,” Ghoga said in a statement. “The time for compromise has passed. The people of Libya cannot possibly envisage or accept a future in which Qaddafi’s regime plays any role.”
The rebels’ military spokesman, Colonel Ahmed Bani, also said Qaddafi was “playing dirty games ... He doesn’t speak honestly. We don’t believe him and we don’t trust him.”
The Libyan leader also refused to leave his North African homeland or step down, the central demand of the rebels, the US and also of France and Britain, which are leading the NATO air campaign.
“I’m not leaving my country,” Qaddafi said. “No one can force me to leave my country and no one can tell me not to fight for my country.”
Qaddafi’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.
Libya’s government has threatened to attack any ships approaching Misrata, potentially depriving insurgents of a lifeline to their heartland in the east of the country.