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Gadhafi refuses to leave Libya

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Moammar Gadhafi insists he will not leave his country, South Africa's president said yesterday after he met the embattled Libyan ruler.

Gadhafi's departure is the key demand of rebel forces battling his troops.

Italy's foreign minister pledged Tuesday to provide Libya's rebels with fuel and hundreds of millions of dollars backed by frozen assets of Gadhafi's regime. Franco Frattini spoke during a visit to the de facto rebel capital, Benghazi.

The hard lines of the two sides and the competing, high-level visits illustrated the virtual stalemate in the conflict. NATO aircraft bomb the Libyan capital night after night, and military forces from the two sides engage each other in battles, shelling and rocket attacks.

South Africa is concerned for Gadhafi's safety, according to the statement released by President Jacob Zuma's office, after he returned home from his talks with Gadhafi in Tripoli, a rare visit by a high-level world figure.

Zuma was pressing to revive an African Union proposal for a cease-fire and dialogue to settle the Libya conflict, and Gadhafi agreed, according to the statement. "Col. Gadhafi called for an end to the bombings to enable a Libyan dialogue," it said. "He emphasized that he was not prepared to leave his country, despite the difficulties."

Zuma called for a halt to NATO airstrikes as part of the cease-fire. After initially backing NATO's involvement, Zuma and the African Union called for a cessation, charging that NATO had overstepped its UN mandate to protect civilians.

NATO aircraft blasted five tank transporters near the western coastal town of Zlitan on Monday, British military spokesman Maj. Gen. John Lorimer said in a statement. The town is between Tripoli and the rebel-held city of Misrata.

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