Fresh NATO-led air strikes on Saturday targeted the district of Tripoli where Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi has his residence, after G8 world powers intensified the pressure on the strongman to step down.
For the fourth successive night, powerful blasts rocked Bab Al-Aziziya near the city centre, an AFP correspondent said as Libyan state media reported air raids on the Al-Qariet region south of the capital.
The strikes came after US President Barack Obama told a summit of G8 world powers that the United States and France were committed to finishing the job in Libya, as Russia finally joined explicit calls for Kadhafi to go.
Russia’s dramatic shift — and an offer to mediate — came as British Prime Minister David Cameron said the NATO mission against Kadhafi was entering a new phase with the deployment of helicopter gunships to the conflict.
«We are joined in our resolve to finish the job,» Obama said after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the G8 summit of industrialised democracies in the French resort of Deauville.
But the US leader warned the «UN mandate of civilian protection cannot be accomplished when Kadhafi remains in Libya directing his forces in acts of aggression against the Libyan people.»
G8 leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US called in their final statement for Kadhafi to step down after more than 40 years, in the face of pro-democracy protests turned full-fledged armed revolt.
«Kadhafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfil their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go,» it said.
But the Libyan regime rejected the call and said any initiative to resolve the crisis would have to go through the African Union.
«The G8 is an economic summit. We are not concerned by its decisions,» said Libya’s deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaaim.
Tripoli also rejected Russian mediation and will «not accept any mediation which marginalises the peace plan of the African Union,» he said. «We are an African country. Any initiative outside the AU framework will be rejected.»
Kaaim said it had no confirmation of a change in Moscow’s position after President Dmitry Medvedev toughened Russia’s stance at the G8 meeting by declaring: «The world community does not see him as the Libyan leader.»
African leaders at a summit in Addis Ababa on Thursday called for an end to NATO air strikes on Libya to pave the way for a political solution to the conflict.
The pan-African bloc also sought a stronger say in resolving the conflict.
Kaaim meanwhile confirmed the visit on Monday of South African President Jacob Zuma, without indicating whether the exit of Kadhafi from power would be discussed as the South Africans have claimed.
On Thursday, the Libyan regime said Tripoli wanted a monitored ceasefire.
But NATO insisted it would keep up its air raids in Libya until Kadhafi’s forces stop attacking civilians and until the regime’s proposed ceasefire is matched by its actions on the ground.
Meanwhile Kadhafi’s wife Sofia on Friday slammed strikes against the Libyan leader and his family, and accused NATO forces of «committing war crimes» with its action against the regime.
Arab League chief Amr Mussa said there was a yawning gap between Tripoli and the rebel National Transitional Council on Kadhafi’s fate, with the rebels demanding he go immediately and the regime saving his exit for «later.»
«I was not there. But I wished that I was so I may die with him,» she told CNN in a telephone interview, describing the reported death of her son Seif al-Arab from a NATO air strike.
«My son never missed an evening prayer. We had strikes every day, and the strikes would start at evening prayer. Four rockets on one house!» she said in the rare interview.
International forces, which have been attacking Kadhafi forces under the terms of a UN resolution to protect civilians, «are looking for excuses to target Moamer. What has he done to deserve this?» asked Sofia.
NATO, she said, is «committing war crimes» in the North Africa country.
«They killed my son and the Libyan people. They are defaming our reputation, she said.
«Forty countries are against us. Life has no value anymore,» she lamented, in the wake of her son’s death.
Doubts have been raised in recent days of the veracity of reports on Seif al-Arab, Kadhafi’s youngest son, being dead.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pointed out Wednesday that the international coalition had no information on his demise, and said the report from a Libyan government spokesman was «propaganda.»