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Friday, June 17, 2011

Qaddafi on Libyan TV pledges to defeat NATO, calls rebels ‘traitors’ and ‘cowards’

Libyan TV aired an audio speech from leader Muammar Qaddafi on Friday in which he vowed to defeat the NATO alliance trying to dislodge him from Tripoli.

“This is the first time they are facing an armed nation of a millions,” he said. “They will be defeated, the alliance will be defeated.”

The TV station said the speech was from “a telephone call from the brother leader on June 17,” although this could not be independently verified.
“We are in our country and we are determined to stay and defend it ... We are staying, we are staying. Let them even use nuclear bombs,” the 68-year-old leader said, before referring to rebels seeking his overthrown as “traitors” and “cowards.”

Libyan rebels and pro-Qaddafi forces exchanged heavy artillery fire near the western city of Zlitan on Friday as the rebels tried to push deeper into governm

Rebels deny negotiations with Qaddafi as heavy exchanges reported near key Libyan western town

Libyan rebel chief Mahmoud Jibril denied Friday suggestions by a Russian envoy that the insurgents had been negotiating with Muammaer Qaddafi’s regime as the Libyan rebels and government forces exchanged heavy artillery fire near the western city of Zlitan.

“I can assure you there is and there was no negotiation between the NTC and the regime,” the head of the rebel National Transitional Council told a press conference in Naples.

Speaking alongside Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy, Mr. Jibril said that were negotiations to take place, the NTC would “announce it out of commitment to our friends all over the world.”
“We pursue every means possible, whether political, whether military, to liberate our country and establish democratic government based on a constitution and equal rights,” he said, according to AFP.

Russian envoy Mikhail Margelov said in Tunis earlier Friday that representatives of Mr. Qaddafi had made contact with the rebels in a number of European capitals, including Berlin, Paris and Oslo.

Mr. Margelov said the Libyans needed an opportunity to negotiate, “a mechanism that brings them together and if the international community can provide such a mechanism that would be a great help.”

Mr. Frattini also questioned the possibility of talks between the two sides.

“Italy has always encouraged the search for contacts and a solution based on dialogue but unfortunately the regime has not sent any positive response and has always demanded that Mr. Qaddafi’s remaining in power be guaranteed,” he said.

Mr. Frattini said that he trusted in the NTC to “determine the criteria and methods for establishing a channel for dialogue but in no way to legitimize the current regime, which is being isolated internationally.”

Mr. Frattini predicted that top Libyan leaders would be targeted “in a few days” by international arrest warrants, making it impossible to give them any legitimacy, according to AFP.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is seeking arrest warrants for Mr. Qaddafi, his son Saif Al Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdallah Al Senoussi, deemed most responsible for crimes against humanity in Libya.

Ongoing fighting

Libyan rebels and pro-Qaddafi forces, meanwhile, exchanged heavy artillery fire near the western city of Zlitan on Friday as the rebels tried to push deeper into government-held territory east of the capital.

A Reuters team in Dafniya, the outskirts of the rebels’ western bastion of Misrata, described rebels firing artillery and rocket launchers with a range of about 20 kilometers (miles). Rebels said they were aiming for tanks and munitions in Naimah near Zlitan.

“We had a strategy to finish everything today but some of the fighters think it’s a game,” a rebel unit commander called Mohammed Ali told Reuters. “They shot when they weren’t supposed to shoot and they have ruined it,” he said after rebels took cover at the main Dafniya front from heavy mortar barrage.

Warplanes could also be heard in the skies above, although it was unclear if there had been strikes.

Zlitan, just 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Tripoli, is the next major town on the Mediterranean coast road to the capital. Capturing it would be a major victory.

The exchanges were the heaviest in the area since last week when 31 rebels were killed.

At the field hospital in Dafniyah ambulances arrived with at least 5 seriously wounded rebel fighters, most with shrapnel wounds.

The rebels have said they would not attack Zlitan because of tribal sensitivities, but have been recruiting fighters from the town and waiting for the inhabitants to rise against 68-year-old Colonel Qaddafi.

NATO planes also resumed bombardments of Tripoli on Friday with six loud explosions ringing out in the south of the city.

The rare daytime strikes, which hit the capital over the course of about half an hour before noon, sent columns of thick black smoke into the sky.

The rebellion rose up four months ago to the day in the eastern city of Benghazi and NATO intervention in Libya, a country of 23 million, has now been going on for nearly 13 weeks—longer than many of its backers anticipated—and the strains are beginning to show within the alliance.

Rebel advances towards Tripoli have been slow, while weeks of NATO strikes pounding Mr. Qaddafi’s compound and other targets have failed to end his 41-year-old rule.

Rebel forces are fighting Mr. Qaddafi’s troops on two other fronts: in the east of the country around the oil town of Brega and in the Western Mountains southwest of Tripoli.

Cynical offer

NATO, meanwhile, slammed as “cynical” an offer in an Italian newspaper interview by Mr. Qaddafi’s son that the regime in Tripoli was ready to organize internationally-supervised elections.

Saif al-Islam told Corriere della Sera the elections, for which he gave a three-month timeframe, could be monitored by the European Union or African Union, the United Nations or even NATO as long as a “mechanism” was put in place to ensure there were “no suspicions of vote rigging.”

“Once again, it is an instance of what I would call a cynical PR ploy,” said alliance spokeswoman Oana Lungescu during a news briefing on the military campaign, according to AFP.

“It is hard to imagine that after 41 years in which Mr. Qaddafi abolished elections, the constitution, political parties, trade unions... (that) overnight a dictator would turn into a democrat.”

Echoing a US suggestion that the notion was put forward too late to be taken up, Ms. Lungescu said NATO would not be deflected from its three-pronged goals: ending attacks on civilians, the withdrawal of Mr. Qaddafi military and para-military forces; and full access for humanitarian aid.

“The mission will continue and we will rump up the pressure until those goals are met,” she said.

(Abeer Tayel, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English AND REUTERS
ent-held territory east of the capital.

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