TRIPOLI, May 26 (Reuters) - Libya said on Thursday it was ready for a ceasefire and negotiations with rebels who hold the east of the country but demanded it include an immediate halt to NATO airstrikes.
The proposal by Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi, who said it mirrored a plan floated by the African Union, one of Tripoli’s few allies, for resolving the conflict, came on the heels peace overtures to Spain and other foreign countries.
It also follows some of the heaviest attacks to date in NATO’s Libyan air campaign, which Muammar Gaddafi’s government says has exceeded a mandate of civilian protection based on United Nations Security Council resolutions, and now aims at killing or toppling the Libyan leader.
“Libya is serious about a ceasefire, which must be a ceasefire from all sides, especially NATO,” Mahmudi told reporters in Tripoli. He dismissed, however, any prospect of Gaddafi’s departure — a key rebel demand.
“Muammar Gaddafi is the leader of the Libyan people; he decides what the Libyan people think,” Baghdadi said. “He is in the hearts of the Libyan people. If he departs, then so do all the Libyan people.”
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, speaking at the Group of Eight summit in France, said the United States did not see the new Libyan ceasefire offer as credible because it was not accompanied by action.
Libya was not complying with U.N. demands and its forces were still attacking population centers, so the United States would continue with the military campaign, he told reporters.
The prime minister scorned the rebel Transitional National Council, recognized by a handful of states as Libya’s legitimate representative, as former members of the same order they aim to overthrow.
“Now they absolve themselves of everything. Who was responsible for the security file? They were, and now they are on the other side, calling on NATO to do the job for them,” he said.
But he said the door was open for talk with the rebels nonetheless.
“We are ready to speak with popular groups that represent all of Libya, anyone in that framework we welcome, whether he is in the council or not. All Libyans are welcome at the roundtable to talk.”
His remarks came as Spain confirmed it had received an offer of an immediate ceasefire from him. He declined to elaborate on that offer, or others Spain said Libya had made, and called for a fixed date to implement a cease fire.
Gaddafi, who Libya says NATO is trying to assassinate, was alive and well, Mahmudi said.
“He’s in good health, handling his duties, in fine condition and he has no restrictions on his movements Libyans know he’s fine,” he said. “When we need him, we contact him or he contacts us. We ask about his health.”
Reporting by Joseph Logan; Editing by Angus MacSwan