Idea Kadhafi will step down ‘ridiculous,’ says son 

The charred hand of a pro-Kadhafi fighter is seen as Libyan rebel fighters buried him in a communal grave near the western gate of Ajdabiya.

Libyan rebels rejected an African Union initiative for a truce accepted by Moamer Kadhafi, and said the only solution was the strongman’s ouster, an idea his son called “ridiculous.”

The rebel rejection came after NATO chiefs warned that any deal must be “credible and verifiable,” and as alliance warplanes were again in action against heavy Kadhafi weaponry pounding Ajdabiya and Misrata.

A delegation of leaders mandated by the African Union (AU) to stop the fighting in Libya arrived late Monday in the Algerian capital for two days of talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, APS news agency reported.

“We are working to find a solution to this complex question and we are continuing our efforts to get out of this crisis,” Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was quoted as saying on arrival.

He was accompanied by Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, AU Commission chairman Jean Ping and Ugandan Foreign Minister Henry Oryem Okello, APS said.

Kadhafi has accepted a proposed “roadmap” calling for an immediate ceasefire, boosted humanitarian aid and dialogue between the two sides, but the insurgents have rejected the plan, saying Kadhafi must go immediately.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also stuck to US demands for Kadhafi to step down and leave Libya as part of a peaceful transition, but declined to comment on the proposed African Union deal before being fully briefed.

She told a news conference in Washington however that “there needs to be a transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Kadhafi from power and from Libya.”

Kadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam admitted that it was time for “new blood” in Libya, but called talk of his father stepping down “ridiculous.”

“The Libyan Guide (Kadhafi) does not want to control everything. He is at an advanced age. We would like to bring a new elite of young people onto the scene to lead the country and direct local affairs,” he told France’s BFM TV.

“We need new blood — that is what we want for the future — but talk of the Guide leaving is truly ridiculous,” he added.

In Benghazi, rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said the African initiative did not go far enough.

“From the first day the demand of our people has been the ouster of Kadhafi and the fall of his regime,” he said.

“Kadhafi and his sons must leave immediately if they want to be safe… Any initiative that does not include the people’s demand, the popular demand, essential demand, we cannot possibly recognise.”

NATO, meanwhile, said it struck more loyalist targets around Ajdabiya and the besieged port of Misrata on Sunday and Monday, destroying 11 Kadhafi regime tanks and five military vehicles.

The regime warned that any foreign intervention under the pretext of bringing aid into Misrata would be met by “staunch armed resistance,” the official JANA news agency quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

Diplomats in Brussels said on Friday that the EU was gearing up to deploy military assets for a humanitarian mission to evacuate wounded from Misrata and deliver food, water and medicine to the city.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that warplanes will keep pounding Libyan forces as long as civilians are at risk.

“I would also like to stress that the guiding principle for us will be how to implement the UN Security Council resolution fully, that is to protect the civilians against any attack,” he said.

Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, a spokesman for the rebels’ Transitional National Council, welcomed the African Union efforts, but demanded Kadhafi’s overthrow.

“The people must be allowed to go into the streets to express their opinion and the soldiers must return to their barracks,” he told AFP.

“If people are free to come out and demonstrate in Tripoli, then that’s it. I imagine all of Libya will be liberated within moments.”

He also demanded the release of hundreds of people missing since the outbreak of the popular uprising and believed to be held by Kadhafi’s forces.

South African President Jacob Zuma said earlier that Tripoli had accepted the African Union plan for a ceasefire.

“We also in this communique are making a call on NATO to cease the bombings to allow and to give a ceasefire a chance,” he said.

The rebels, however, doubted Kadhafi would adhere to a truce.

“The world has seen these offers of ceasefires before and within 15 minutes (Kadhafi) starts shooting again,” Abdulmolah said.

The rebels have said they would negotiate a political transition to democracy with certain senior regime figures, but only on the condition that Kadhafi and his sons leave Libya.

Meanwhile, Libya’s former foreign minister Mussa Kussa, who is in Britain after defecting from Moamer Kadhafi’s regime, told the BBC Monday that the restive nation could become a “new Somalia” if civil war broke out.

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Protesters stage mass rally against Bahrain ruler 

Thousands of supporters of Bahrain’s Shiite-led opposition demonstrate in Pearl Square in Manama calling for the government’s downfall.

Tens of thousands of supporters of Bahrain’s Shiite-led opposition poured into Manama’s Pearl Square calling for the government’s downfall in the largest rally in more than a week of protests.

The capital’s streets were clogged as protesters marched from the Bahrain Mall to the square, the focal point of anti-regime demonstrations that have gripped the Gulf state since February 14.

Those leading the protest carried a large banner reading, “The march of loyalty to martyrs” which bore the pictures of seven protesters killed by security forces.

Another poster strung from a bridge read in English, “No dialogue before the downfall of the ruling regime.”

“The people want the fall of the regime,” protesters chanted in unison, waving red-and-white Bahraini flags as they swarmed into Pearl Square.

The widow of one of the victims read a statement outlining the opposition’s demands, which centre on the current government’s resignation and the replacement of the ruling Sunni Khalifa dynasty with a constitutional monarchy.

The statement also demanded an immediate, “impartial” probe to identify and try those behind the killings and reiterated opposition calls for the formation of a “national salvation” government.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s state news agency said embattled Bahraini King Hamad would head to Riyadh on Wednesday, on a visit that coincides with the expected return of Saudi King Abdullah from the United States.

The Bahraini monarch was the focus of the anger of thousands of Bahraini women, draped in black, who shouted: “May your hands be paralysed, Hamad.”

“Down, down Khalifa,” others chanted, condemning Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, the uncle of King Hamad who has been in office since 1971 and who is widely despised by the Shiites.

“Our aim is either victory or martyrdom,” said 20-year-old Mohammed, who refused to give his family name out of “fear of oppression.”

“After the massacre of Thursday … I don’t believe in any dialogue,” he said, referring to a deadly police raid on Pearl Square at dawn on Thursday.

Security forces have since been ordered to stay away from protesters who have daily crowded the square to demand the end of the Khalifa reign.

“We don’t have a problem if elections bring a Sunni or a Shiite ruler,” said 32-year-old protester Saeed.

“The most important thing is to have egalitarian distribution of wealth among both communities,” added the father of two who earns 200 dinars ($530/391 euros) per month.

Tuesday’s rally marked the first protest officially called for by political associations since the protests began in response to calls by cyber activists inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

King Hamad has agreed to one of the opposition’s demands, ordering the release of political prisoners and the end of trials against others.

An opposition Mp said Wednesday authorities had released 23 Shiite activists who were being held on charges of terrorism.

“The 23 have been released,” said MP Jassem Hussein, a member of the Islamic National Accord Association.

The 23, along with two more who were being tried in absentia, faced charges of forming an illegal organisation, engaging in and financing terrorism and spreading false and misleading information.

The Islamic National Accord Association is the main Shiite formation and controls 18 seats in the 40-member parliament. Along with other opposition groups, it had demanded the prisoners’ release as a precondition for considering a call for dialogue.

The Shiite opposition quit parliament in protest at the killing of demonstrators and has demanded a constitutional monarchy and a peaceful alternation of power.

Tuesday’s protest came a day after pro-government Sunnis rallied in their thousands at a Manama mosque, pledging loyalty to the Khalifa family, and calling on protesters to answer an invitation for dialogue by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad.

The political upheaval has forced the cancellation of next month’s Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, and authorities fear the economy of the archipelago will be dented.

Bahrain has dwindling oil resources, while tourism from neighbouring Saudi Arabia is a significant source of revenues for many.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International urged the Bahraini authorities to ensure the safety of people participating in peaceful protests. It highlighted the case of a protester and his friend who say they were punched and beaten by police after being arrested on Friday.