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02 Jul 2011 07:26
African Union leaders offered on Friday to host talks between the Libyan government and rebels on a ceasefire and transition to democratic government, but left open whether there was any future role for Muammar Gaddafi.
The proposal was presented to representatives of Gaddafi and rebels attending a summit of the 53-nation grouping in the Central African state of Equatorial Guinea.
“We will very soon launch talks in Addis,” South African President Jacob Zuma told reporters, referring to the Ethiopian capital where the AU is headquartered.
There was no immediate reaction from either side to the offer, which according to a copy seen by Reuters, would aim to establish “a consensual and inclusive transition” via an interim government and elections.
Mahamadou Issoufou, president of Libya’s neighbour Niger, said nations at the summit “had been requested” not to act on arrest warrants issued earlier this week by the International Criminal Court against Gaddafi, his son and his spy chief.
However Issoufou did not say who had made the request or whether African leaders had agreed to the demand, which would leave open the possibility of Gaddafi seeking refuge on the continent.
Rockets push rebels south of Libyan capital
Libyan rebels who had advanced to within 80km Gaddafi’s stronghold in the capital were forced to retreat on Friday after coming under a barrage of rocket fire from government forces.
The rebels advanced five days ago to the outskirts of the small town of Bir al-Ghanam, raising the possibility of a breakthrough in a four-month old conflict that has become the bloodiest of the Arab Spring uprisings.
Rebel fighters who had been massing on a ridge near Bir al-Ghanam and preparing for an attack were pulled back under fire from Russian-made Grad rockets, said a Reuters photographer in Bir-Ayyad, 30km to the south.
The rebels returned to the same positions on the edges of Bir al-Ghanam on Friday afternoon, Reuters reporters there said.
The rocket barrage reached as far back as Bir-Ayyad, a road junction in the foothills of the Western Mountains range south-west of Tripoli from where the rebels had launched their advance last week.
The back-and-forth battle underlined the military stalemate between Gaddafi’s forces, who have withstood 15 weeks of bombardment by Nato missiles and warplanes, and rebels attempting to break through their lines on three fronts.
In an address carried by Libyan television and broadcast to 100 000 supporters who gathered on Friday in Tripoli’s Green Square, Gaddafi vowed to stay on and warned Nato to stop its air war or face defeat.
“We advise you [Nato] to retreat before you face a catastrophe,” Gaddafi told the huge crowd, by far the largest pro-Gaddafi demonstration since a rebellion against his 41-year rule erupted in February.
“I advise you to ground your planes ...
and to hold discussions with the Libyan people,” Gaddafi said, denouncing arrest warrants for him, his son and his brother-in-law issued on Monday by the International Criminal Court.
Supporters waved green flags and posters of the Libyan leader, who said the huge turnout was voluntary and proved he was popular among Libyans.
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