NATO hits Gadhafi compound, diplomacy heats up

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TRIPOLI, Libya — Hours after NATO airstrikes pounded the area near Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s compound again before dawn Thursday, Russia’s envoy to Libya turned up at a bombing site while on a visit to Tripoli for talks on ending the civil war.

Italy’s foreign minister, meanwhile, said his government was calling together tribal leaders from all parts of Libya for a meeting to promote reconciliation.

Franco Frattini said Thursday up to 300 people representing all of Libya’s regions will attend the meeting. He did not give a date. The ANSA news agency said the meeting might take place next week.

And one of Gadhafi’s sons told an Italian newspaper that his father would not seek exile outside Libya but that elections under International supervision could offer a way out. A vote could be organized within 3 months, he said.

The son, Saif al-Islam, told Corriere della Sera that Gadhafi would step aside if he lost, which the son said was unlikely. He acknowledged, however, that “my father’s regime as it developed since 1969 is dead.” The son said he envisions a federal state with strong local autonomy and a weak central government in Tripoli.

In Moscow, the ITAR-Tass news agency said envoy Mikhail Margelov had met in Tripoli with Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi and planned a session with Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi. Reporters taken to a bombing site — it was not clear if it was the location hit early Thursday — saw Margelov there, in the company of government officials.

Last week, Margelov visited the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi and said that Gadhafi has lost his legitimacy. However, Margelov also said NATO airstrikes are not a solution to Libya’s violent stalemate.

The Interfax agency quoted Margelov as saying, after meeting the foreign minister, that he was told “Gadhafi is not prepared to leave, and the Libyan leadership will talk about the country’s future only after a cease-fire.” The foreign minister also said, according to Margelov, that the African Union should be “the main force” in reaching a resolution.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland rejected the idea of elections in Libya. “It’s a little late for any proposals by Gadhafi and his circles for democratic change,” she said Thursday. “It’s time for him to go.”

The latest NATO strike on Gadhafi’s compound rattled windows across the heart of the capital, producing thunderous concussions and smoke billowing into the air.

It was not clear what was hit, and there was no word on casualties. Government officials did not immediately comment on the strike. NATO warplanes have repeatedly targeted the area in and around the Bab al-Aziziya compound.

NATO launched its air campaign nearly three months ago under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians. What started as a peaceful uprising inside the country against Gadhafi and his more than four-decade rule has become a civil war.

Poorly equipped and trained rebel fighters have taken control of the eastern third of Libya and pockets of the west. The fighting had reached a stalemate until last week when NATO launched the heaviest bombardment of Gadhafi forces since the alliance took control of the skies over Libya.

NATO has been pounding Gadhafi’s military and government positions with increasing vigor and the rebels are again on the move.

Tunisian army official Mokhtar Ben Nasr said the number of Libyans fleeing has mounted in recent days, with 6,330 Libyan refugees crossing into Tunisia earlier this week. Dozens of Libyan soldiers also have defected to Tunisia by boat, the state news agency there reported Wednesday.

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