Libya govt offers truce, Russia says ready to mediate
Libya's regime offered a truce but not the departure of Moamer Kadhafi as Tripoli was pounded by NATO air strikes and Russia said it is 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, Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi said.
African leaders gathered at a Libya-focused summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa called Thursday for an end to NATO air strikes to pave the way for a political solution to the north African nation's protracted conflict.
But NATO insisted it would keep up its air raids in Libya until Kadhafi's forces stop attacking civilians and until the regime's proposed ceasefire is matched by its actions on the ground.
An AFP reporter said five powerful explosions hit Tripoli late Thursday, rocking an area where embattled Kadhafi has his residence.
Fighter jets could be heard over the area before the first blast at around 11:20 pm (2120 GMT), with the four others following minutes apart.
NATO air strikes also targeted the Bab Al-Aziziya district, home to Kadhafi, overnight Monday and Tuesday, killing three people and wounding 150, according to the Libyan regime.
Mahmudi, speaking to reporters in Tripoli late 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 Kadhafi's ouster.
"Moamer Kadhafi 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 premier was sending international leaders a message proposing an immediate UN-monitored ceasefire in Libya.
According to a letter seen by the newspaper, Kadhafi'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 noted that the Kadhafi 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 his Russian counterpart 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" Kadhafi.
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 Kadhafi's forces.
"Ministers have given clearance in principle to use Apaches," said a British government official at the summit, asking not to be named. "They will become a capable asset at NATO's disposal."
Britain will operate four of the heavily armed helicopters from the HMS Ocean, a helicopter carrier that will be based off the coast of the North African country, added a British government source.
France and Britain between them account for the majority of air strikes carried out by coalition forces against Kadhafi's troops under the terms of a UN Security Council resolution adopted in March to protect civilians.
NATO claims it has seriously degraded Kadhafi's military machine with air strikes from high-flying combat jets, but helicopters would help the alliance strike regime assets hidden in urban areas.
In Brussels on Thursday, Libya's ambassador to the European Union, Hadeiba Hadi, said he was defecting along with all his staff.
"After more than four months of the blood-letting of our people, my colleagues and myself at the Libyan popular bureau in Brussels find ourselves obliged to announce our decision to no longer represent the regime," he said in a statement sent to AFP.
© 2011 AFP