TRIPOLI - 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."