Libya’s regime offered a truce, but not the departure of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi as Tripoli was pounded by NATO air strikes and Russia said it was ready to play a key role in mediating an end to the conflict.
“We have asked the United Nations and the African Union to set a date and specific hours for a ceasefire, to send international observers and take the necessary measures” to end combat, Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi said.
African leaders gathered at a Libya-focused summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa called on Thursday for an end to NATO air strikes to pave the way for a political solution to the north African nation’s protracted conflict.
However, NATO insisted it would keep up its air raids in Libya until Qaddafi’s forces stop attacking civilians and until the regime’s proposed ceasefire is matched by its actions on the ground.
A reporter said five powerful explosions hit Tripoli late on Thursday, rocking an area where embattled Qaddafi has his residence.
Fighter jets could be heard over the area before the first blast at around 11:20pm, with the four others following minutes apart.
NATO air strikes also targeted the Bab al-Aziziya district, home to Qaddafi, overnight Monday and Tuesday, killing three people and wounding 150, according to the Libyan regime.
Mahmudi, speaking to reporters in Tripoli late on Thursday, said previous “ceasefires announced by the regime have not been respected by any of the parties.”
This time the government wanted “all sides to stop fighting, especially NATO.”
He ruled out Qaddafi’s ouster.
“Muammar Qaddafi is in the heart of all Libyans. If he goes, they all go,” he said, adding that the leader was “in good health” and operating without any restrictions on his movements.
London-based daily the Independent reported on Thursday that the Libyan prime minister was sending international leaders a message proposing an immediate UN-monitored ceasefire in Libya.
According to a letter seen by the newspaper, Qaddafi’s regime was ready to enter unconditional talks with rebels, declare an amnesty for both sides and draft a new constitution.
The Spanish government confirmed it had received a message to that effect.
A NATO official, however, said the Western alliance had received no such request and added that the Qaddafi regime had made “similar statements” before, only to continue its attacks on civilians.
“NATO will keep up the pressure on the regime until these steps are implemented in a credible, verifiable and sustained way,” he said.
Russia, meanwhile, said it had been contacted by Mahmudi seeking to negotiate a deal, and had been asked by Western G8 partners to pursue contacts with the regime to seek to resolve the conflict.
Western officials said Moscow had not been formally asked to mediate, but a White House spokesman said US President Barack Obama had discussed maintaining contacts with Tripoli with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Britain confirmed it would deploy Apache helicopter gunships in Libya, saying the change in tactics would give a final push to the regime of an increasingly “paranoid” Qaddafi.
The announcement during the G8 summit of rich nations in the French resort of Deauville came after days of reports that Britain would join France in sending choppers to join the stalled NATO campaign against Qaddafi’s forces.