TRIPOLI – Moamer Kadhafi's prime minister offered on Sunday a truce to the visiting UN special envoy to Libya, Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib, in return for an immediate NATO ceasefire, as an anti-regime revolt entered a fourth month.
The head of Britain's armed forces, meanwhile, said NATO should widen its bombing campaign to ensure Kadhafi is unable to cling to power, while Pope Benedict XVI called for negotiations to end the violence.
Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi, quoted by JANA state news agency, said after meeting Khatib that Libya is keen for "an immediate ceasefire to coincide with a stop to the NATO bombardment and the acceptance of international observers."
His country, he added, was committed to the unity of its territory and people and that Libyans had the right to "decide on their internal affairs and political system through democratic dialogue away from the bombing threat."
Mahmudi accused NATO, which has been in charge of enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya, of "abuses and violations" including "political assassinations, the unjust maritime siege, bombing of civilian sites and destruction of infrastructure."
Soon after Khatib arrived, several loud explosions shook the east of Tripoli and columns of smoke rose into the sky, residents reported from Tajura, an outlying suburb of the capital.
JANA reported "human losses and material damage" after NATO struck "military and civilian" sites in Zuara, west of Tripoli. A NATO spokesman confirmed the alliance targeted military equipment in the city.
"I can confirm we did attack this morning in the area of Zuara military equipments used by Kadhafi forces to target civilians," he said.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said this week he had urged Mahmudi to halt attacks on civilians immediately and called for "immediate verifiable ceasefire negotiations towards the peaceful resolution of the conflict and unimpeded access to humanitarian workers."
General David Richards, Britain's chief of the defence staff, meanwhile told Britain's Sunday Telegraph more military action was needed against the Libyan strongman.
"The vice is closing on Kadhafi, but we need to increase the pressure further through more intense military action," he said.
The general said he wanted NATO member states to support the targeting of Kadhafi's regime, not just targets which pose an immediate threat to civilians, such as tanks and artillery.
"The military campaign to date has been a significant success for NATO and our Arab allies. But we need to do more. If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Kadhafi clinging to power," Richards said.
"At present, NATO is not attacking infrastructure targets in Libya. But if we want to increase the pressure on Kadhafi's regime then we need to give serious consideration to increasing the range of targets we can hit."
Protests against Kadhafi's 41-year autocratic rule began on February 15 and quickly escalated into a popular uprising, inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled their respective hardline rulers.
Kadhafi ordered his forces to crush the uprising, prompting an armed rebellion which has claimed thousands of lives while seeing much of eastern Libya fall into the hands of insurgents who have vowed to march on Tripoli and topple Kadhafi.
On March 19, French, US and British forces, under a UN mandate to protect civilians, launched air strikes on Kadhafi's forces in a campaign that was taken over by NATO on March 31.
The ICC chief prosecutor said on Sunday he was "almost ready" for a Libyan rights abuse trial, as he prepared to apply for arrest warrants.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo is expected to ask judges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to issue three arrest warrants on Monday, when the names of the accused could be revealed.
Diplomats have said Kadhafi would likely head the list.
"We are almost ready for trial," Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement. "The office collected good and solid evidence to identify (those) who bear the greatest responsibility," he said.
On the battlefield, rebels made new progress in their advance from the western port city of Misrata, which they freed in fierce fighting earlier in the week from a two-month siege by Kadhafi's forces.
An AFP correspondent said they had moved 20 kilometres (12 miles) in the east to reach the gates of Tavarga and in the west they reached the gates of the city of Zliten -- their next main military target on the road to Tripoli.
In the rebels' eastern bastion of Benghazi, Jalal al-Gallal, a spokesman for their National Transitional Council, touted the achievements of the past three months.
"These three months have been very long," Gallal told AFP. "But we managed to secure the eastern areas, free Misrata and the mountainous regions in the west."
He added: "Kahdafi's isolation is irreversible. And most importantly, we achieved freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of movement. Kadhafi's biggest mistake was failing to understand how important these were for us."
But he also acknowledged that people in the east were losing patience that Kadhafi was still in power and that the military campaign against him had hit a stalemate.
"It is true, people are impatient. And euphoria could drop a little bit," Gallal said.
"After being optimistic, we have to start to be pragmatic. It is true, there could be some discontent."