Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ruled out talks with rebels Thursday in the latest of his defiant speeches, this one at a rally in his hometown, Sirte. “There will be no words between us until judgement day,” he said in an audio message to loyalists.
REUTERS - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Thursday ruled out talks with the rebels trying to end his 41-year-rule, raising questions about whether a flurry of Western efforts to negotiate an end to the deepening conflict can succeed.
"There will be no talks between me and them until Judgment Day," Gaddafi told a crowd of thousands of supporters in his home city of Sirte in a remotely delivered audio message. "They need to talk with the Libyan people ... and they will respond to them."
The rally in the quiet seaside city drew men wearing green hats, women waving flags and children whose faces were painted with pro-Gaddafi slogans, and showed how far Libya may be from a negotiated end to its five-month-old conflict.
Rebels who have struggled to arm and organise themselves have suffered losses in the past week near the insurgent stronghold of Misrata and the eastern oil hub Brega, but are pushing ahead with their campaign to unseat the longtime leader.
As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches, when fighting may die down, neither the rebels nor Gaddafi's forces appear to have a decisive edge in a conflict that has seen some areas change hands several times.
Since March, when Western countries began their air campaign over Libya to protect civilians from Gaddafi's forces, expectations of a quick military end to the conflict have given way to hopes of a negotiated settlement. While foreign leaders try to drum up support for this, there is little evidence on the ground that fruitful talks will take place soon.
On Wednesday, France said Gaddafi could stay in Libya if he gave up power. The United States has said that Gaddafi must quit, but that the Libyan people must decide whether he remains in Libya after that. The African Union has proposed negotiations on ending the fighting.
In Thursday's audio address, Gaddafi seemed confident that he would prevail against the rebels and their Western backers.
"So the battle is decided in favour of the people," he said. "NATO can't defeat you at all; they will be defeated and they will flee."
The government brought foreign journalists to Sirte by bus to see the rally, at which supporters raised giant photos of Gaddafi and chanted slogans of allegiance. Later, youths fired guns into the air and fireworks lit up the evening sky.
The rally highlighted the depth of the divisions among Libyans -- but many of those who turned out for the demonstration on a sweltering summer afternoon were united in their resentment of foreign meddling in Libyan affairs.
"The West is really making things worse" by arming the rebels and encouraging them to defeat Gaddafi by force of arms, said Jamal Allafi, a petroleum engineer at the university in Sirte.
"I cry about all this. (The rebels) are our brothers, but we are right, our leader is right, and we will be victorious," said Iman Hussein, a university student wearing a watch whose face showed Gaddafi in uniform.
Like many others at the rally, she said she saw Libya's oil wealth as the real reason for Western involvement and the West's encouragement of a rebel movement that had wrenched many Libyans apart.
"It is impossible to divide this country. The people who want this are not Libyans," she said.