Tripoli, May 31: NATO pounded Libya's capital today, only hours after South Africa's president left following talks that produced only a commitment to a peace plan already rejected by the military alliance and rebels.
South Africa's Jacob Zuma, representing the African Union, held talks yesterday with Muammar Gaddafi as NATO insisted that the Libyan leader's “reign of terror” is nearing an end.
And a day after eight top officers of Gaddafi's army announced their defection in Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini is expected to open a new consulate in the rebels' Benghazi bastion.
Zuma said before he left the Libyan capital that Gaddafi was “ready” to implement the African Union plan to end the conflict between regime forces and rebels fighting to oust the strongman.
But the African mediator did not publicly discuss the key obstacle: Gaddafi's departure. The rebels have reiterated they would accept no settlement that keeps Gaddafi in power.
“He is ready to implement the roadmap of the AU,” said Zuma, adding it would begin with a ceasefire that must include a halt of NATO-led bombing.
Gaddafi insisted “all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves” to determine the country's future, Zuma said.
Libyan state television reported fresh NATO air raids overnight against targets in Tripoli, the suburb of Tajura and Al-Jafra, a city south of the capital.
The report cited a military source as saying “NATO colonialist crusaders” had targeted military and civilian sites in Tripoli and Tajura, causing deaths and damage. It was Zuma's second visit to Libya's capital to try to secure a ceasefire between Gadhafi's forces and rebel fighters.
Zuma's arrival at Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziyah compound was greeted with all the requisite fanfare by Gadhafi's beleaguered regime.
Dozens of Gadhafi supporters, bussed in for the welcoming, waved green Libyan flags and chanted slogans denouncing the NATO bombing campaign against Libyan government targets.
After their meeting Zuma told reporters that Gadhafi had said the Libyan people should “be given the chance to talk among themselves to solve their problems”. He also said Gadhafi was “ready to implement the roadmap of the AU” (African Union), which requires both the government and the rebels to begin an unconditional ceasefire.
But the South African president did not say Gadhafi is ready to step down, which is the central demand of the rebels.
In April, Zuma also led an AU delegation to Tripoli with similar hopes of brokering a truce.
At that time, Gadhafi said he would accept a ceasefire but quickly ignored it and resumed his attacks.
The rebels, meanwhile, rejected the proposals out of hand because they did not include Gadhafi's exit from power.
Since then many ceasefire efforts have failed for similar reasons.
Residents of Benghazi celebrated the temporary launch of a new, independent television channel on Monday night.
Crowds of people gathered in the de facto rebel capital to watch Libya Alhurra TV being broadcast on large screens.
Libya Alhurra TV broadcasts news from rebel-controlled Libya via the internet.
Mohamed Fanouch, a local media coordinator, said he was “full of happiness and joy because of this moment which we have waited for for a few months.”
Zuhair El Barasi, a local media representative, called the temporary launch “amazing”.
“Our dream is coming true and hopefully soon we are going to start the official broadcasting,” he added. AP