NATO bombs struck a Libyan government complex before dawn Saturday, damaging two buildings, just as Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi called for a ceasefire and negotiations with NATO powers in a live speech on state TV.
The targeted compound included the state television building, and a Libyan official alleged the strikes were meant to kill Mr. Qadhafi. “We believe the target was the leader,” said government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.
However, the TV building was not damaged, and Mr. Qadhafi spoke from an undisclosed location.
Reporters visiting the scene of the strikes were told the damaged buildings housed a commission for women and children and offices of parliament staff. One of at least three bombs or missiles knocked down a huge part of a two-storey Italian-style building. In another, doors were blown out and ceiling tiles dropped to the ground. A policeman said three people were wounded, one seriously.
Mr. Qadhafi, meanwhile, called for a ceasefire in a speech that was both subdued and defiant and lasted for more than an hour. “The door to peace is open,” said the Libyan leader, sitting behind a desk and repeatedly flipping through handwritten notes. “You are the aggressors. We will negotiate with you,” he said. “Come, France, Italy, U.K., America, come, we will negotiate with you. Why are you attacking us?”
He said Libyans have the right to choose their own political system, but not under the threat of NATO bombings. “Why are you killing our children? Why are you destroying our infrastructure,” he said, denying that his forces had killed Libyan civilians.
Rebel leaders have said they would only negotiate a truce after Mr. Qadhafi has stepped aside, something the Libyan leader has refused to do. The uprising against Mr. Qadhafi, Libya’s ruler of 42 years, erupted in mid-February, and has claimed hundreds of lives. Rebels are controlling the east of the country, while Mr. Qadhafi has retained most of the west.
Just hours before the speech, Mr. Qadhafi’s forces shelled the besieged rebel city of Misrata, killing 15 people, including a 9-year-old boy, hospital doctors said. The city of 300,000 is the main rebel stronghold in western Libya, and has been under siege for two months, with the port its only link to the outside.
On Friday, NATO foiled attempts by regime loyalists to close the only access route to Misrata, intercepting boats that were laying anti-ship mines in the waters around the port.
The Qadhafi regime signalled Friday that it is trying to block access to Misrata by sea.
Ibrahim, the Libyan official, said he was unaware of the attempted mine-laying. However, he said the government is trying to prevent weapons shipments from reaching the rebels by sea. Asked whether aid vessels would also be blocked, he said any aid shipments must be coordinated with the authorities and should preferably come overland.
Mr. Qadhafi’s forces have repeatedly shelled the port area in the past. Libyan troops are deployed on the outskirts of Misrata, after having been driven out of the downtown area by the rebels last week.