April 30, 2011 / 12:04 AM / in 7 years

WRAPUP 6-Libya's Gaddafi offers ceasefire, but will not leave

* Rebels, NATO spurn Gaddafi offer, cite lack of credibility

* NATO warplanes in action over Tripoli

* Pro-Gaddafi tribes call on rebels to ‘return to fold’ (Adds tribes loyal to Gaddafi)

By Lin Noueihed

TRIPOLI, April 30 (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Saturday he was ready for a ceasefire and negotiations provided NATO “stop its planes”, but he refused to give up power as rebels and Western powers demand.

The rebels and NATO rejected Gaddafi’s offer, saying it lacked credibility. A spokesman for the insurgents said the time for compromise had passed and NATO said air strikes would go on as long as Libyan civilians were being threatened.

Weeks of Western air strikes have failed to dislodge the Libyan leader, instead imposing a stalemate on a war Gaddafi looked to have been winning, with government forces held at bay in the east and around the besieged city of Misrata while fighting for control of the western mountains.

With neither side apparently able to gain the upper hand, Gaddafi struck a more conciliatory tone in an 80-minute televised address to the nation in the early hours of Saturday.

“(Libya) is ready until now to enter a ceasefire,” said Gaddafi, speaking from behind a desk and aided by reams of paper covered in what appeared to be hand-written notes.

“We were the first to welcome a ceasefire and we were the first to accept a ceasefire ... but the Crusader NATO attack has not stopped,” he said. “The gate to peace is open.”

Gaddafi denied mass attacks on civilians and challenged NATO to find him 1,000 people who had been killed in the conflict, kindled by pro-democracy uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

“We did not attack them or cross the sea ... why are they attacking us?” asked Gaddafi, referring to European countries involved in the air strikes. “Let us negotiate with you, the countries that attack us. Let us negotiate.”

But as he spoke, NATO warplanes hit three targets close to the television building in Tripoli in what state media said was an attempt to kill Gaddafi who has ruled since a 1969 coup.

The air strikes left a large crater outside the attorney general’s office but did not damage the building. It hit two other government offices housed in colonial-era buildings. It was not clear if there were any casualties.

The rebels’ transitional national council dismissed Gaddafi’s gesture, saying the Libyan leader had repeatedly offered ceasefires only to continue violating human rights.

“LOST CREDIBILITY”

“Gaddafi’s regime has lost all credibility,” council spokesman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga said in a statement. “The time for compromise has passed. The people of Libya cannot possibly envisage or accept a future Libya in which Gaddafi’s regime plays any role.”

The rebel military spokesman, Colonel Ahmed Bani, said Gaddafi was “playing dirty games... He doesn’t speak honestly. We don’t believe him and we don’t trust him”.

In Brussels, a NATO official told Reuters that Libyan authorities had announced ceasefires several times before only to continue attacks on cities and civilians.

“NATO will continue operations until all attacks and threats against civilians have ceased, until all of Gaddafi’s forces have returned to base and until there is a full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all people in need of assistance,” he said.

The NATO official declined to comment whether NATO would be open to meeting Gaddafi’s representatives for talks, if contacts for such talks were made.

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More on Libya [nLDE72H00G]

More on Middle East unrest: [nTOPMEAST] [nLDE71O2CH]

Libya Graphics link.reuters.com/neg68r

Interactive graphic link.reuters.com/puk87r

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DIGS IN

Tribes loyal to Gaddafi called on rebels to ‘return to the fold’ and stand united with their leader against NATO airstrikes they likened to Italy’s colonial rule.

The call came in a meeting of leaders representing some 420 tribes to which Gaddafi’s government brought the foreign media it has permitted in Tripoli. Those journalists operate under close supervision from government minders.

“The Zawarah tribes call on our brothers in the east and in the Western Mountains to ... return to the fold of other Libyan tribes,” said Mohammed al-Mansouri, speaking on behalf of tribes from the Zawarah area in the west of Libya.

“Libya’s soil is the graveyard of invaders. Ask the fascist Italians what happened to them when they invaded Libya in 1911.”

Gaddafi, in his speech, refused to leave his North African homeland or quit, the central demand of the rebels, the United States, and also of France and Britain which are leading the NATO air campaign.

“No one can force me to leave my country and no one can tell me not to fight for my country.”

Libya’s government has threatened to attack any ships approaching the rebel western outpost of Misrata, potentially depriving insurgents of a lifeline to their heartland in the east of the country.

NATO said Gaddafi forces had laid mines on the approach to the harbour, which has been under siege for weeks, and forced a temporary halt in humanitarian shipments.

Further west, the war spilled into Tunisia on Saturday when Gaddafi’s forces overran a rebel enclave at the frontier. The Libyan army shelled the Tunisian border town of Dehiba, damaging buildings and wounding at least one person, witnesses said. They said Libyan soldiers drove into the town in a truck chasing rebels.

Additional reporting by Tarek Amara and Abdelaziz Boumzar in Dehiba, Deepa Babington and Michael Georgy in Benghazi, Matthew Tostevin in Tunis; writing by Jon Hemming; editing by Mark Heinrich

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