Xinhua, TRIPOLI — Latest international mediation efforts in Libya made little progress while NATO escalated its air strikes on forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

In a latest effort to defuse Libyan tensions, South African President Jacob Zuma visited this North African country Monday, but was unable to break the chronic deadlock.

Zuma said Gaddafi was ready to carry out an African Union (AU) roadmap for solving the crisis, which called for political dialogue between the government and the opposition, necessary political reforms, and more effective measures to protect civilians.

Xinhua, TRIPOLI — Latest international mediation efforts in Libya made little progress while NATO escalated its air strikes on forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

In a latest effort to defuse Libyan tensions, South African President Jacob Zuma visited this North African country Monday, but was unable to break the chronic deadlock.

Zuma said Gaddafi was ready to carry out an African Union (AU) roadmap for solving the crisis, which called for political dialogue between the government and the opposition, necessary political reforms, and more effective measures to protect civilians.

Zuma, representing the AU, hurriedly left the Libyan capital Tripoli after an hours-long meeting with Gaddafi, who hadn’t made a public appearance over the past half month.

The Libyan leader has regarded the AU, which has all along opposed NATO air strikes against Libya and appealed for political solutions to the standoff, as a reliable mediator.

But the Benghazi-based rebels rejected the roadmap, saying it didn’t include the departure of Gaddafi, their key demand.

Libyan opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil, in an interview with Xinhua on Sunday, said the departure of Gaddafi was the only way out of Libya’s crisis and the opposition wouldn’t hold any talks with the strongman.

“The only condition for holding talks of resolving the crisis is that Gaddafi, his inner circle and his family have no future in the political arena of Libya and they must leave,” said Abdul Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC) based in Benghazi.

On Monday, Libyan troops launched an offensive against rebels in the vicinity of oil-rich Brega controlled by Gaddafi supporters, but didn’t deal a heavy blow to rebels.

Actually, government troops and rebels across Libya have been bogged down in a fierce tug of war on the battlefield, as both sides have failed to gain an overwhelming advantage over the other.

In military strength, the rebels lag far behind government forces, but are ramping up their size and battle capacities. New recruits are also receiving longer military training than before.

NATO has recently also upgraded its air raids against targets in Tripoli, joined by British and French attack helicopters to increase attack precision.

Reports said Britain would add earth-penetrating weapons to its fighter planes to specifically attack Libyan troops’ blindages and underground defense works, saying the weapons would pose a direct threat to Gaddafi, who may have been holed up beneath the ground.

As the latest in a series of defections, eight senior Libyan officials announced their breakaway from the Gaddafi camp and appeared in Italy Monday.

The Gaddafi administration is facing mounting diplomatic pressure from the West, as the opposition is actively seeking international recognition and support.

France, Italy and Qatar have recognized the opposition NTC, while the United States, Turkey and the European Union have established relations with the opposition.

At the just wrapped-up Group of Eight (G8) summit held in Deauville,France, Russia, a traditional friend of the Libyan government, abruptly shifted its position by saying Gaddafi must step down.

Although Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said Libya didn’t care about decisions made by a G8 summit that he said should focus on economic issues, it was an undeniable fact that Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, had completely changed its stance on the Libyan crisis, which may have a considerable impact on the situation in Libya.

The Libyan government is also trying to woo domestic and international support by reporting to the world civilian casualties caused by NATO raids and expressing the will to reach a ceasefire with the opposition.

The opposition, while gaining strength and support, still falls short of having an absolute edge over the Gaddafi camp.

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