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Libyan rebels call for more from NATO as Gadhafi stands firm

Libyan rebels have hit out at NATO over its air mission over the fractured country, saying it is not going far enough to protect civilians from the forces of strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

A rebel fighter holds a rocket propelled grenade launcher

Fighting continues as Libya's diplomatic push in Europe brings little results

NATO has pledged to continue protecting Libyan citizens, insisting that the pace of airstrikes against the forces of Moammar Gadhafi has not slowed down since the 28-nation alliance took command on March 31.

"Misrata is our number one priority," NATO deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero told news agency AFP on Wednesday. "We have a clear mandate and we will do everything to protect the civilians of Misrata." But she acknowledged that the last airstrike around Misrata was on Monday.

Libyan rebels battling Gadhafi's forces had previously criticized the NATO-led air mission in the country, claiming it was not fulfilling the United Nations mandate to protect civilians in the besieged city of Misrata. The accusation came as the rebels sustained their first significant loss of territory to Gadhafi's forces in almost a week.

Meanwhile, Information Minister Moussa Ibrahim told journalists on Tuesday that Gadhafi was "the safety valve" for the unity of the country's tribes and people.

He said the Libyan people rather than other nations must decide Gadhafi's future. Foreign governments should engage in a give-and-take dialogue on reforms in the North African country, he said.

"We think he is very important to lead any transition to a democratic and transparent model," Ibrahim said. "How Libya is governed, this is a different matter. What kind of political system is implemented in the country? This is negotiable, we can talk about it."

Ibrahim said the government was willing to consider various options in its negotiations with the West, such as elections or referendums.

No breakthrough in truce talks

Libyan National Transitional Council's Foreign Minister Ali al-Essawi and Frattini

Frattini met with the NTC's Foreign Minister al-Essawi, left, on Monday

The debate about Gadhafi's future is a major hurdle to international talks. Turkish officials, seeking to broker a ceasefire in Libya, said on Tuesday there was no breakthrough in sight as a result of this sticking point.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met Libya's envoy Abdelati Obeidi on Monday to talk through broad conditions for a ceasefire and political solution to the conflict. A delegation from the rebel side is expected to visit Ankara in the coming days for similar discussions.

"Both sides have a rigid stance," a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said. "One side, the opposition, is insisting that Gadhafi should go. The other side is saying Gadhafi should stay. So there is no breakthrough yet."

"The Prime Minister reiterated the Maltese government's position that the resolutions of the United Nations must be respected, that the Gadhafi government must step down, that Colonel Gadhafi and his family should leave and there should be an immediate ceasefire and a process to enable the Libyan people to make its democratic choices," the Maltese government said in a statement.

Italy stands firm

Italy, a former colonial power in Libya, on Monday also said Gadhafi and his family must relinquish power.

Moammar Gadhafi

Should he stay or should he go?

"Gadhafi and his family must go," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Italian news channel SkyTG24. He said the international community should stand united and prevent any envoys from Gadhafi from "making a breach" in this solidarity.

Earlier Frattini said Italy had recognized the Libyan opposition's National Transitional Council (NTC) as its "sole interlocutor" and offered assistance for economic reconstruction in rebel-held eastern Libya. Ibrahim said Libya "regretted" Italy's decision to recognize the opposition council.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting around the key oil town of Brega continued on Wednesday as rebels appeared to make some headway in regaining positions they had lost to Gadhafi's forces a day before.

Author: Darren Mara, Sabina Casagrande (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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