Rome, Feb 24 (IANS/AKI) Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has telephoned Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi to deny that Italy had armed anti-government demonstrators with rockets.
According to a statement issued by Berlusconi's office, the call was made following a televised afternoon address by the embattled Gaddafi, in which he said he would never resign and that protesters, whom he branded 'terrorists', would be executed.
In a 20-minute phone call with Gaddafi, Berlusconi Tuesday urged the Libyan leader to avoid civil war and bring a peaceful end to the conflict, newspaper Corriere della Sera reported Wednesday.
Berlusconi 'flatly denied' that Italy had supplied rockets or any weapons to Gaddafi opponents, a charge Gaddafi also levelled at the US in a defiant speech aired on state TV Tuesday.
Corriere della Sera cited unnamed Italian government sources as saying US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had invited Berlusconi to call Gaddafi in a message relayed to him by Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
As recently as Saturday, Berlusconi, who in recent years has sought closer ties between Italy and Libya through a personal friendship with Gaddafi, controversially said he did not want to 'disturb' the longest-ruling Arab leader.
In the one-hour and 14-minute speech, Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for 41 years, said he would fight with his 'last drop of blood' to retain power and pledged to deploy the army and police to impose order.
On Monday, Berlusconi joined other European Union leaders in condemning the violence against civilians in Libya in a brutal crackdown by forces loyal to Gaddafi against the revolt that began Feb 17.
Tripoli said Tuesday that 300 people had been killed in the crackdown. But a Rome-based Arab expatriate group, Arab World Communities in Italy, cited sources inside Libya as saying that 1,000 people had been killed in bombing raids.
Reports from Libya citing eyewitnesses claim heavy weaponry and foreign mercenaries have allegedly been used against civilians.