NATO steps up Libya bombing, but Qaddafi is defiant. Can he be driven out?

Bombing of Tripoli reportedly among NATO's most intense, and Libya says at least a dozen people are killed. Qaddafi says he prefers 'martyrdom' as the coalition seeking his ouster prepares to meet.

By , Staff writer

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    A smoke and dust cloud from an explosions rises into the sky after a NATO airstrike in Tripoli, Libya on June 7.

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NATO stepped up its aerial bombardment of the Libyan capital of Tripoli Tuesday in the run-up to a meeting of the countries seeking to end the Libyan crisis through the departure of Muammar Qaddafi, the country’s besieged leader.

The NATO bombing Tuesday appeared to target Colonel Qaddafi’s compound in the Libyan capital. Libyan government officials said that at least a dozen Libyans were killed in the daytime raid, but those numbers could not be independently confirmed.

In an audio speech issued shortly after the intense airstrikes, Qaddafi insisted he would fight to the death, saying “martyrdom is a million times better” than “surrender.”

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Libyan officials speaking with Western reporters in Tripoli after the bombings noted what they see as the irony of NATO bombers – authorized by a United Nations Security Council resolution designed to protect Libyan civilians – causing civilian deaths.

Qaddafi’s defiant words, after what foreign journalists in the capital described as among the most intense bombings of the NATO campaign, suggested the difficult road ahead for the international coalition embroiled in the Libyan conflict. The Libya Contact Group, which includes the United States, a few other NATO members, and a number of Arab countries, is hoping at its meeting Thursday in the United Arab Emirates to come up with a plan to hasten the end of the conflict.

But Qaddafi’s post-bombardment speech Tuesday offered few if any openings for the international community to try to negotiate with him on his eventual departure from power and from Libya.

“We have one option – our country,” Qaddafi said. “We will remain in it till the end. Dead, alive, victorious, it doesn’t matter.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to attend Thursday’s meeting in Abu Dhabi, although she is not expected to offer any additional American resources for NATO’s campaign. Both the British and the French, who together are leading the NATO mission in Libya, have tried to convince the US to commit airpower that might succeed in dislodging Qaddafi from his compound and from power.

President Obama, however, insists on keeping the US to what he calls a supportive role in the NATO mission.

At a White House appearance Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Obama said he is convinced it is “just a matter of time before Qaddafi goes.” The relentless NATO airstrikes are “inexorably” causing Qaddafi’s forces to be “pushed back” and “incapacitated,” he said.

Last week the NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in a speech that he is confident the NATO mission will result in Qaddafi’s departure from power within the next four months.

Yet while some regional analysts say it may be difficult to imagine how Qaddafi could outlast weeks of a barrage like the one unleashed on him Tuesday, a few also note that the Libyan leader has so far managed to hold off the NATO onslaught for about the same amount of time that Secretary-General Rasmussen says will be necessary to defeat him.

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