- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2011

TRIPOLI, LIBYA — Libya’s government pushed a cease-fire proposal Thursday and said for the first time it was prepared to speak with its rebel adversaries, signaling that months of fighting and NATO bombardment may be closer to forcing some concessions.

Even so, the government insisted Col. Moammar Gadhafi would not relinquish power, which he has held for more than 40 years. His departure is a key demand of Western leaders and the rebels, who say they will not consider halting more than three months of fighting until Col. Gadhafi goes.

Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi told reporters in the Libyan capital Thursday that he was willing to hold talks with “all Libyans,” including members of the rebel administration based in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Officials from Col. Gadhafi’s regime said before they would not speak to the rebel government, arguing that it did not represent Libyans.

Also Thursday, three rebel fighters were killed and 20 others wounded in clashes with government forces near the western city of Misrata, said Dr. Mustafa Taha from the city’s central Hikma Hospital.

Late Thursday, at least five explosions were heard in Tripoli from NATO airstrikes. The targets were not immediately identified. Libyan gunners aimed anti-aircraft fire at the planes. Smoke was seen rising from the area of Col. Gadhafi’s compound, a frequent target of NATO airstrikes.

Mr. al-Mahmoudi did not outline the government’s latest cease-fire proposal in detail, but emphasized that NATO must be a party to it, not just the rebels.

“Libya is serious about a cease-fire. But that means a halt for all parties, in particular NATO,” Mr. al-Mahmoudi said. “Everything will be discussed once we have a cease-fire.”

The White House dismissed the proposal as not credible.

U.S. deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the Libyan government is not complying with the U.N. resolution that authorized the international military operation to protect the Libyan people from forces loyal to Col. Gadhafi. He said the effort to drive Col. Gadhafi from power would continue.

The British newspaper the Independent said Thursday it obtained a copy of Mr. al-Mahmoudi’s letter and that it proposed an immediate cease-fire to be monitored by the United Nations and the African Union.

It also called for unconditional talks with the opposition, amnesty for both sides in the conflict and the drafting of a new constitution, according to the newspaper.

Libya’s rebel administration repeated its insistence that before any cease-fire can be considered, Col. Gadhafi’s regime must respond to demands in the U.N. resolution. Nevertheless, the rebels appeared to welcome the diplomatic movement.

The deputy leader of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, said that “political processes are under way to negotiate ways for his [Col. Gadhafi’s] exit, so in our opinion, it is a matter of time for this process to come to a critical conclusion.”

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