TRIPOLI, Libya, July 23, 2011 (Reuters)
TRIPOLI, Libya, July 23, 2011 (Reuters)
Libya is ready to hold more talks with the United States and with rebels trying to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, but the Libyan leader will not bow to demands he quit, a government spokesman said.
Moussa Ibrahim said Libyan officials had a “productive dialogue” with U.S. counterparts last week in a rare meeting that followed American recognition of the rebel government that hopes to end Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.
“Other meetings in the future … will help solve Libyan problems,” the spokesman told reporters in Tripoli late on Friday. “We are willing to talk to the Americans more.”
He said Gaddafi would not leave his position nor Libya.
Hours later NATO planes bombed targets in the capital, causing damage and casualties, Libyan state television said, without giving details.
NATO said it had hit a “command and control node”.
A Reuters witness heard at least six blasts early on Saturday, the largest to hit the capital in several weeks, four of them shaking the hotel hosting international media.
Rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said Gaddafi must agree publicly to stand down before any talks could begin.
“There are no negotiations with this regime unless he declares his departure and that he is stepping down, he and his sons, from power,” he said in a weekly statement to Libyans broadcast on rebel-run television.
As Gaddafi clings to power despite five months of civil war and a NATO bombing campaign authorised by a U.N. resolution, the West is increasingly hoping for a negotiated settlement.
But the United States also says Gaddafi must go.
Ibrahim said Libyan officials – but not Gaddafi himself – would be willing to hold further meetings with rebels, who now control roughly half of Libya, only on the government’s terms.
“Nations do not negotiate with armed gangs,” he said. Gaddafi is urging Libyans to persuade rebels to disarm and rejoin the loyal fold — and to fight them if they don’t.
His comments came as Libya reported a NATO airstrike near the eastern oil hub of Brega, the scene of recent fighting, which the government said killed six guards at a water plant.
NATO said the strike targeted a “military storage facility” rather than the water pipeline plant.
As Western nations intensify diplomatic efforts, a European diplomat said a U.N. envoy would seek to persuade the warring parties to accept a plan that envisages a ceasefire and a power-sharing government, but with no role for Gaddafi.
The diplomat said the informal proposals would be canvassed by the special U.N. envoy to Libya, Abdul Elah al-Khatib, who has met both government and rebels several times.
Jalil, who heads the rebels’ Transitional National Council that many Western nations now recognise as the Libyan authority, told Reuters on Saturday that Khatib’s plan for power-sharing could be discussed as long as Gaddafi himself was out.
“Any diplomatic solutions are acceptable if they include this main condition,” he said.
A rebel spokesman told Reuters that Khatib would come to their eastern stronghold of Benghazi early next week.
Poorly armed rebels seem unlikely to quickly unseat Gaddafi. They declared advances this week but they also suffered losses near their enclave of Misrata and in fighting for Brega.
Gaddafi has stepped up his defiant rhetoric amid persistent reports of talks. Pro-government rallies are being shown almost daily on state television, perhaps a reminder to outsiders that he can still command considerable support.
On Friday, thousands gathered near Tripoli’s historic centre for the unveiling of a massive likeness of the longtime leader.
State television said Gaddafi would make another speech on Saturday, this time addressed to Egyptians on the anniversary of their revolution — not this year’s, which toppled President Hosni Mubarak, but pan-Arabist Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s in 1959.
Nasser was a role model for Gaddafi who seized power in a coup as a young revolutionary.
Spokesman Ibrahim denied a rebel report that Mansour Daw, a key aide to Gaddafi, had been wounded in a rebel rocket attack in Tripoli on Thursday. He said there had been an explosion but it was caused by a kitchen gas cylinder.
Picture credit: Wat.tv