Kadhafi, 'back to the wall', says fight continues

TRIPOLI, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi issued a defiant audio message saying he had his "back to the wall" but did not fear death, as NATO vowed to press its air war in Libya despite Italian calls for a cessation.

"We will resist and the battle will continue to the beyond, until you're wiped out. But we will not be finished," Kadhafi said in the message broadcast on Libyan television in homage to his comrade Khuwildi Hemidi, several members of whose family were killed Monday in NATO raids on his residence.

"There's no longer any agreement after you killed our children and our grandchildren... We have our backs to the wall. You (the West) can move back," he added.

"We are not frightened. We are not trying to live or escape," Kadhafi said, denouncing what we called a crusade against a Muslim country targeting civilians and children.

NATO has acknowledged its warplanes early on Monday hit Sorman west of Tripoli but insisted the target was military, a precision air strike against a "high-level" command and control node.

AFP photo

Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said 15 people, including three children, were killed in the attack, which he slammed as a "cowardly terrorist act which cannot be justified."

Ibrahim said the attack was on an estate belonging to Hemidi, a veteran comrade of Kadhafi.

"By what right do you target politicians and their families?" Kadhafi asked in the message broadcast late on Wednesday. He claimed that Hemidi's office in Tripoli had been bombed four times.

"They were looking for him because he's a hero. When they didn't find him in his office they wanted to kill him in his home," Kadhafi added, calling on the United Nations to send observers to confirm that the NATO target was a civilian site and not a military target.

Kadhafi promised to build a monument, "the highest in North Africa," to four-year-old Khaleda, Hemidi's grand-daughter who the authorities said was killed in the raid.

"We will stay, we will resist and we will not give in. Strike with your missiles, two, three, 10 or 100 years," Kadhafi said.

His message came hours after NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted there would be no let-up in the Libyan bombing campaign, saying more civilians would die if operations were not maintained under a UN mandate to protect Libyans from the exactions of Kadhafi's regime.

"NATO will continue this mission because if we stop, countless more civilians could lose their lives," Rasmussen said in a video statement on the NATO website.

The secretary general did not directly refer to Italy, whose Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Wednesday called for "an immediate humanitarian suspension of hostilities" in Libya.

"We have seen the effects of the crisis and therefore also of NATO action not only in eastern and southwestern regions but also in Tripoli," Frattini told a parliamentary committee in Rome.

"I believe an immediate humanitarian suspension of hostilities is required in order to create effective humanitarian corridors," while negotiations should also continue on a more formal ceasefire and peace talks, he said.

The commander of the NATO operation, Canada's Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, echoed Rasmussen's comments.

"I appreciate the effort of the Italian government to bring a cessation to the violence taking place and, obviously, to be able to move humanitarian assistance," Bouchard told a briefing.

But he said a ceasefire risked becoming "just an opportunity for both sides to reload and to engage in further violence down the road."

"We must continue to stay engaged to prevent that rearming," Bouchard said.

Frattini's comments had drawn a swift rebuff from NATO ally France which has played a leading role in the military intervention in Libya.

"The coalition and the countries that met as the Abu Dhabi contact group two weeks ago were unanimous on the strategy -- we must intensify the pressure on Kadhafi," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters.

"Any pause in operations would risk allowing him to play for time and to reorganise. In the end, it would be the civilian population that would suffer from the smallest sign of weakness on our behalf," he said.

The rebels fighting to end Kadhafi's four-decade rule were also dismissive of the Italian ceasefire proposal.

"Even if NATO halts operations, we will fight tooth and nail, we will fight until our country is freed, we don't fear (a NATO cessation)," rebel spokesman Mahmud Shamam said.

The Libyan people have tasted freedom and will not accept anything less ... they will fight to the end, until victory."

NATO member Denmark became the latest country to recognise the rebels' National Transitional Council.

China on Wednesday said it now regarded the NTC as an "important dialogue partner."

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