TRIPOLI, LIBYA - Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi called for a ceasefire and negotiations with NATO Saturday but refused to surrender power, as alliance warplanes struck a government complex in the capital.
In a rambling address on state television which began around 2:30 a.m. and lasted 80 minutes, Gaddafi appeared both calm and defiant, describing military intervention by NATO, designed to protect civilians from his regime, as a massacre.
In Brussels, a NATO official told the Associated Press the alliance needed “to see not words but actions,” and that NATO would keep up the pressure until the U.N. Security Council mandate to protect Libyan civilians was fulfilled. Rebels also rejected Gaddafi’s offer of a ceasefire as “lies.”
“The gate to peace is open,” Gaddafi said, sitting behind a desk and occasionally glancing at copious hand-written notes. “You are the aggressors. We will negotiate with you. Come, France, Italy, U.K., America, come, we will negotiate with you.
“Why are you attacking us? Why are you killing our children? Why are you destroying our infrastructure?" he asked, while denying his forces had killed Libyan civilians.
As he spoke, NATO warplanes attacked government buildings close to the television center in Tripoli in what the Libyan government described as an attempt to kill Gaddafi. The TV images briefly went black on three occasions but the signal was quickly restored and Gaddafi, speaking from an undisclosed location, carried on without interruption. The TV center was not damaged.
The Libyan leader, who has ruled for more than four decades, said he would negotiate and uphold a ceasefire if NATO “stopped its planes.” But even as he made the offer he appeared to dismiss the possibility, describing his enemies as al-Qaeda operatives who did not understand what a truce meant.
He also refused to step down or leave the country as the rebels and the leaders of the United States, Britain and France demand.
"I'm not leaving my country," Gaddafi said. "No one can force me to leave my country and no one can tell me not to fight for my country
In Benghazi, the de facto capital of the opposition east, Gaddafi's speech was dismissed as more lies from a leader who has repeatedly promised ceasefires while continuing to attack.
"There is very little credibility left in what he says," said Jalal el Gallal, a rebel spokesman. "The bottom line is there is no more time for compromise with a liar and there is no solution that includes him or his family members."
On Friday evening, the Libyan government threatened to attack ships carrying humanitarian aid into Misurata, on the same day that NATO said it had intercepted Libyan government vessels trying to lay anti-ship mines in the harbor.
Libya’s government says the port, which it has repeatedly shelled, is also being used by the rebels to deliver arms and “terrorists” to Misurata, but NATO described the attempt to lay mines as Gaddafi “trying to completely ignore humanitarian law.”
Hundreds of people have died in the siege of Misurata from indiscriminate government shelling of residential areas. On Friday, the Libyan army used tanks to fire on the city, killing 15 people and wounding more than 50 more, said Aiman Abu Shahma, a member of the city’s medical council.
In Tripoli, reporters were shown the damage apparently inflicted by three NATO missiles on a complex of colonial Italian buildings by the coast.
One had apparently missed its mark, creating a huge crater in the sidewalk, while the others struck buildings identified by officials as housing offices of parliamentary staff and a commission for women and children. A policeman said three people were wounded, one seriously.
Gaddafi has made sporadic appearances since the start of the revolt against him on Feb. 17, mainly to dispel rumors he had fled, to declare how much support he commands in Libya or to demonstrate his defiance.
Sitting in front of a painting of tribal horsemen, he spoke on the anniversary of a famous battle near his hometown of Sirte against the Italian occupation 96 years ago, a battle he says his grandfather was killed in.
He described young rebels as children “tricked” by NATO, and promised to reward them if they lay down their weapons.
"When Libya returns as it was before this conspiracy, you'll take cars,” he promised. “The money will come to you."
Fadel reported from Benghazi.