Libya sees heaviest Nato airstrikes

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

The strikes continued overnight and early on Wednesday, some 10 explosions shook the Libyan capital. It was not immediately clear what was hit.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, Libyan state television broadcast an audio address from Gaddafi, who denounced Nato and the rebels challenging his rule.

He vowed never to surrender, and shouted: "We will not kneel."

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 defence ministry.

It could not be confirmed whether Gaddafi's 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

"We will not surrender: we only have one choice - to the end. Death, victory, it does not matter, we are not surrendering," Gaddafi said.

The Libyan leader also later appeared on state television sitting with tribal elders, said government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim. "He is still resilient," Mr Ibrahim said, adding that Gaddafi believes Nato strikes are "not about civilians, democracy or peace in Libya. The attacks are about domination, revenge and wealth".