NATO unleashes blistering airstrikes in Libya

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Muammar Gaddafi stood defiant in the face of the heaviest and most punishing NATO airstrikes yet at least 40 thunderous daylight attacks that sent plumes of smoke billowing above the Libyan leader's central Tripoli compound.

The strikes, which hit yesterday afternoon, continued overnight. Early today, some 10 explosions shook the Libyan capital.

It was not immediately clear what was hit. Late yesterday, Libyan state television broadcast an audio address from Gadhafi, who denounced NATO and the rebels challenging his rule. He vowed never to surrender. "We will not kneel!" he shouted.

Alliance officials warned for days that they were increasing the scope and intensity of their air campaign to oust Gaddafi after more than 40 years in power. NATO is backing the rebel insurgency, which has seized swaths of eastern Libya and pockets in the regime's stronghold in the west since it began in February, inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

Some 6,850 people, nearly all of them Libyans, have streamed across the border from Libya to Tunisia since Monday to flee the NATO raids as well as fighting between the rebels and government forces, according to the Tunisian Defense Ministry.

It couldn't be confirmed whether Gaddafi's some 10-minute speech was a live phone call or an audio recording, but it appeared to take state television by surprise. The sound was hastily adjusted to make it louder.

As he spoke, reporters in Tripoli heard the whooshing sound of low-flying military craft again, followed by several explosions. Pro-Gaddafi loyalists also fired celebratory gunfire in the air.

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