South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in Tripoli Monday for talks with Muammar Gaddafi amid growing international pressure on the Libyan strongman to step down.
Zuma's office said the purpose of the visit, the South African leader's second to Libya since April, was to discuss with Gaddafi an immediate ceasefire, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the reforms needed to end the crisis that began when anti-regime protests erupted in mid-February.
Sources in Zuma’s office, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Agence France-Presse that talks would focus on Gaddafi’s “exit strategy.” But Zuma’s spokesman Zizi Kodwa rejected these reports as “misleading.”
Libyan state television said Zuma would discuss the implementation of the African Union's "roadmap" for peace. Gaddafi accepted the AU’s “roadmap” for ending conflict following Zuma’s April visit. But rebel leaders rejected the plan because it did not require Gaddafi to step down.
Arriving at Tripoli’s airport Monday afternoon, the South African president was welcomed with a red carpet, a band and children waving Libyan flags while chanting “We want Gaddafi!” in English, the Reuters news agency reports.
Gaddafi remains popular among members of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party because of his support for the ANC during the apartheid era. Starting in the 1970s, the ANC used Libya as military training base for some of its cadres in the fight against apartheid. Both Zuma and Nelson Mandela have referred to Gaddafi as “Brother Leader.”
On Monday, Libyan state media said that NATO air strikes on the town of Zliten, west of the rebel-held port city of Misrata, had killed 11 people.
NATO began bombing Gaddafi’s forces in March after they appeared to be winning back control of rebel-held parts of Libya. South Africa, which has a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, voted for the resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya to protect civilians.
However, Zuma has since joined other African leaders in criticizing the airstrikes and calling for an end to the bombing campaign. On Sunday, Zuma's ANC party strongly condemned NATO’s airstrikes on Libya.
"We also join the continent and all peace-loving people of the world in condemning the continuing aerial bombardments of Libya by Western forces," the ANC said after a meeting of its executive council.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a meeting in Bulgaria that “Gaddafi’s reign of terror is coming to an end.”
"He is increasingly isolated at home and abroad. Even those closest to him are departing, defecting or deserting ... It is time for Gaddafi to go as well," Rasmussen said.
On Friday, G8 leaders called for Gaddafi to step down, a position that was applauded by rebel leaders in Benghazi as “reflective of the will of the international community as well as the demands and aspirations of the Libyan people."
But Gaddafi’s supporters say there is no chance of him stepping down from office or leaving Libya. The Libyan regime responded to the G8 statement by saying that any initiative to resolve the crisis would have to go through the African Union.
"The G8 is an economic summit. We are not concerned by its decisions," said Tripoli's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaaim.
"We are an African country. Any initiative outside the AU framework will be rejected," he said.