TRIPOLI, Libya - Moammar Gadhafi insists he will not leave his country, South Africa's president said Tuesday after meeting with the embattled Libyan ruler. Gadhafi's departure is the key demand of rebel forces battling his troops.

The hard lines of the two sides and the competing, high-level visits illustrated the virtual stalemate in the conflict. NATO aircraft bomb the Libyan capital night after night, and military forces from the two sides battle, but little is changing on the ground.

South Africa is concerned for Gadhafi's safety, according to the statement released by President Jacob Zuma's office after he returned home from Tripoli - a rare visit by a high-level world figure.

Zuma was pressing to revive an African Union proposal for a cease-fire and dialogue to settle the Libya conflict, and Gadhafi had agreed, the statement said. "Col. Gadhafi called for an end to the bombings to enable a Libyan dialogue," it said. "He emphasized that he was not prepared to leave his country, despite the difficulties."

Zuma called for a halt to NATO air strikes as part of the cease-fire. After initially backing NATO's involvement, Zuma and the African Union called for the cessation, charging that NATO had overstepped its U.N. mandate to protect civilians.

On Monday, NATO aircraft blasted five tank transporters near the western coastal town of Zlitan, British military spokesman Maj. Gen. John Lorimer said. The town is between Tripoli and the rebel-held city of Misrata. Several air strikes were heard in Tripoli after nightfall.

Through the statement Tuesday, the African Union appealed for recognition of its role in finding a formula to bring about a cease-fire, adding: "Nothing other than a dialogue among all parties in Libya can bring about a lasting solution."

Rebel leaders immediately turned down the African initiative because of Gadhafi's refusal to relinquish power.

In response, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Tuesday that Gadhafi's ouster would lead to civil war. "If Gadhafi disappears for any reason, the safety valve will have been released," he said.

Defections from the Gadhafi regime appear to be speeding up. Thirteen servicemen loyal to Gadhafi, including a colonel and four commanders, have fled to neighboring Tunisia, the official Tunisian news agency said. It was the second group of military men to defect to Tunisia this week.

Developments in the Region

Yemen: A cease-fire between government forces and opposition tribesmen in San'a, the capital, broke down Tuesday, renewing fears that the country's political stalemate could drag it into civil war. The fighting came a day after government forces pounded a key coastal city with air strikes to dislodge Islamic extremists and, to the west, disrupted a large antigovernment demonstration in the city of Taiz in clashes that killed at least 20 protesters. Violence broke out in San'a a week ago after President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused for a third time to sign an agreement to step aside.

Bahrain: The Justice Ministry warned that authorities would not ease pressure on antigovernment groups after emergency laws are removed Wednesday. The sharply worded statement contrasted with a message from Bahrain's Sunni King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa urging "unity talks" with protest factions beginning in July. The king stopped short of spelling out specific reforms to satisfy Shiite-led protesters. Also Tuesday, a human-rights group said its leader, Nabeel Rajab, was summoned to appear in court and has not been heard from since.

Egypt: Activists and bloggers pressed military rulers to investigate accusations of abuses against protesters, including claims that soldiers subjected female detainees to so-called virginity tests. Bloggers say they will hold a day of online protest Wednesday to voice their outrage. Four journalists and a prominent blogger were summoned for questioning by the military prosecutor. Two journalists and the blogger were released without charges. The other two journalists will appear before prosecutors.

- Inquirer wire services

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