Libyan rebels rejected a cease-fire deal presented by an African Union delegation Monday because it did not address their demand that Moammar Gadhafi be removed from power.
The African leaders met with members of the opposition's Transitional National Council at a hotel in the eastern city of Benghazi but left without saying a word after talks apparently broke down.
Rebel council head Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the country's former justice minister, said the initiative "did not respond to the aspirations of the Libyan people" and only involved political reforms.
"The initiative that was presented today, it's time has past," Abdel-Jalil said. "We will not negotiate on the blood of our martyrs."
He said the rebels could not accept any proposal that doesn't include the departure of Gadhafi and his family, and that Gadhafi should leave Libya voluntarily before "the march of the people is on his doorstep."
The African negotiators met with Libya's leader Sunday in the capital, Tripoli, and said he had accepted their proposal for a cease-fire. When the talks ended, Gadhafi, wearing a brown burnoose and a turban, emerged from a tent set up in the courtyard of his Bab al-Aziziya compound. He then got into a van and did a victory lap, his upper body poking through the sunroof as he clasped his hands in a triumphant display.
Hours later, government forces shelled the rebel-held city of Misurata.
In Benghazi, hundreds of protesters filled the streets ahead of the African Union meeting to demand that there can be no peace without Gadhafi's departure. Demonstrators waved pre-Gadhafi flags and chanted anti-government slogans outside the Tibesty Hotel, where negotiations were to take place.
Many demonstrators said they had little faith in the visiting African Union mediators, most of them allies of Gadhafi who are preaching democracy for Libya but don't practice it at home.
Protester Jilal Tajouri told The Associated Press that "Gadhafi and all his sons must leave Libya so we can have democracy."
Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said Monday that any talks on Libya should firmly agree there can be no future role for Gadhafi or his family.
Frattini told France's Europe-1 radio that the "sons and the family of Gadhafi cannot participate in the political future." He also said diplomats should reject any new proposal to partition Libya between the rebel-held eastern cities and Gadhafi's strongholds in the country's west.
Frattini spoke ahead of meetings this week by European foreign ministers and NATO foreign ministers, and talks in Qatar by a new international contact group on Libya.
Britain's Foreign Office said Koussa is not being detained by authorities, but have repeatedly declined to discuss the details of his debriefings or comment on his whereabouts.
The African Union's "road map" calls for an immediate end to the fighting, the delivery of humanitarian aid to affected populations, the protection of foreign nationals and a dialogue between the warring parties that will lead to political reforms.
Gadhafi enjoys substantial support from countries of the African Union, which he chaired two years ago and helped transform using Libya's oil wealth. Although the organization has condemned attacks on civilians, its current leader, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has decried foreign intervention in Libya's nearly two-month uprising, which he declared to be an internal problem.
The visit by the African delegation took place against a backdrop of weeks of fierce government bombardment of Misurata, the only major city in the western half of Libya that remains under partial rebel control.
The bombardment has terrorized the Mediterranean city, killed dozens of its civilian residents and left it short of food and medical supplies, according to accounts by residents, doctors and rights groups.
Although the rebels have improved discipline and organization, they remain a far less powerful force than Gadhafi's troops. Members of the international community have grown doubtful that the opposition can overthrow Gadhafi even with air support, and some are weighing options such as arming the fighters even while attempting diplomatic solutions.
A rebel battlefield commander said four airstrikes Sunday largely stopped heavy shelling by government forces of the eastern city of Ajdabiya — a critical gateway to Benghazi. NATO's leader of the operation said the airstrikes destroyed 11 tanks near Ajdabiya and an additional 14 near Misurata.
An Associated Press photographer saw two burning tanks and dozens of charred vehicles near the western gate of Ajdabiya that looked like they were hit by airstrikes. Four other tanks were destroyed about 25 miles southwest of the city.
NATO is operating under a U.N. resolution authorizing a no-fly zone and airstrikes to protect Libyan civilians.
Mohammed Idris, supervisor of a hospital in Ajdabiya, told the AP that 23 people died in Sunday's fighting, 20 of them pro-Gadhafi forces. He said a total of 38 people were killed in fighting over the weekend, including 11 rebels and seven civilians.
The highest profile insider to break with Moammar Gadhafi's regime since Libya's conflict began warned on Monday that the country risked becoming engulfed in civil war like Somalia.
Ex-Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa — making his first public statement since he fled Tripoli, quit his post and arrived in Britain on March 30 — called on Gadhafi and the country's opposition to show restraint.
"I ask everybody, all the parties, to work to avoid taking Libya into a civil war. This will lead to bloodshed and make Libya a new Somalia," said Koussa, who has spent almost two weeks at an undisclosed location in interviews with British intelligence officers and diplomats.
The former Gadhafi loyalist read a prepared statement to the BBC's Arabic language television channel and did not take any questions. The BBC did not disclose where it had filmed Koussa.
With reporting from NPR's Peter Kenyon in Benghazi and Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Tripoli. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.