Libya: NATO air raids resume after defiant 'Gaddafi audio message'

NATO jets pounded the Libyan capital Tripoli on Tuesday, after state television aired brief audio tape remarks it said were by Muammar Gaddafi, taunting the alliance as a "cowardly crusader" whose bombs could not kill him.

In Gaddafi's purported audio message he said he would remain in Italy "dead or alive" and that Libyans "are stronger than your missiles or artillery."

"I tell the cowardly crusader (NATO) that I live in a place they cannot reach and where you cannot kill me," said the male voice on the audio tape, which sounded like Gaddafi's.

The remarks came after Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said Gaddafi had probably left Tripoli and been injured in NATO air strikes, claims that were dismissed by Libyan officials.

NATO carried out rare daytime strikes on Tripoli on Tuesday, including a wave of 20-25 attacks on military barracks near Gaddafi's residence, on what is believed to be his 69th birthday.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim condemned the raids.

"Instead of talking to us, they are bombing us. They are going mad. They are losing their heads," Ibrahim said.

NATO bombings have continued over the past two days and the alliance confirmed it has now flown more than 10,000 sorties since operations began in late March, including almost 4,000 strike attacks against government targets across Libya.

Rebels have mounted an almost four-month-long rebellion against Gaddafi's iron-fisted rule and control Benghazi and the oil-producing east of Libya.

Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting, which has resulted in a military statement between rebels and forces loyal to Gaddafi with neither side managing to gain control of the entire country.

Pressure is mounting on Gaddafi to step down.

The head of the African Union Panel for Libya, Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, said his departure had become necessary to end the conflict.

Russia and China have now despatched top diplomats to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in an attempt to mediate an end to the conflict.

[Source: AKI, Tripoli, 07Jun11]

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