A wave of NATO air strikes battered Tripoli yesterday, piling pressure on embattled Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who said he was “near” the bombing, but vowed never to surrender.
Loud blasts were heard near Qaddafi’s residential complex Bab al-Aziziya at around 1:45am, a reporter said. A little later the city was shaken by more powerful explosions.
On Tuesday, in one of the heaviest bombardments of the air war so far, NATO-led warplanes carried out about 60 strikes on Tripoli, killing 31 people, Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said.
The main target was Qaddafi’s compound, which has been blasted regularly since the start of the international military intervention on March 19, and most of the buildings in the Bab al-Aziziya complex have been flattened.
In an audio message broadcast late on Tuesday, Qaddafi said that he was close to the bombing, but was still resisting and called on his people to resist too.
“Despite the bombings, we will never submit,” Qaddafi said in the nine-minute broadcast. “I am near the bombing, but I am still resisting.
“We have only one choice — [to stay in] our country to the end. Death, life, victory, no matter what. We will not leave our country or sell it, we will not submit,” he said in his first intervention since he appeared on state TV on May 19.
Shortly after the recording was broadcast, more air strikes hit the Libyan capital, continuing a bombardment that had gone on throughout the day.
Journalists taken on an escorted tour of the bomb-damaged compound were shown a dead body, draped in a green Libyan flag, which Ibrahim said was one of a number of casualties from the air strikes.
An information ministry minder said that six bombs had struck the compound itself and eight the barracks just opposite.
The British Ministry of Defence said targets included a secret police headquarters in the heart of Tripoli and a major military installation on the outskirts.
In Washington, US President Barack Obama said after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the pressure on Qaddafi “will only continue to increase” until the Libyan leader steps down.
“The chancellor and I have been clear. Qaddafi must step down and hand power to the Libyan people, and the pressure will only continue to increase until he does,” Obama told reporters at the White House, standing alongside the German leader.
“What you’re seeing across the country is a inexorable trend of the regime forces being pushed back, being incapacitated,” he said.
“You’re seeing defections, often times of some very high-profile members of the Qaddafi government, as well as the military,” he said, adding: “I think it is just a matter of time before Qaddafi goes.”
Libyan Labor Minister al-Amin Manfur became the latest member of Qaddafi’s regime to defect, announcing at a meeting of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva that he was changing sides.
In Libya’s second city, Benghazi, the UN special envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, arrived yesterday for talks with the rebel leadership, a rebel source said.
On Tuesday, Khatib was in the embattled Libyan capital, where he held “positive talks” with officials of Qaddafi’s government, a spokesman for the regime said.
Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez was also due in Benghazi yesterday, the Spanish government said, as diplomatic pressure mounted against Qaddafi in favor of the rebels.