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Libya declares renewed ceasefire amid coalition attack

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Libyans celebrate on a tank belonging to the forces of Moammar Gadhafi on the outskirts of Benghazi, Libya, on March 20, 2011. AP PHOTO/Anja Niedringhaus.

Libya declared a renewed ceasefire a day after Western forces began bombarding the country’s air defences and bases to protect civilians from government fighters.

“The Libyan armed forces … have issued a command to all military units to safeguard an immediate ceasefire from 9 p.m. this evening,” an army spokesperson said through an interpreter.

But international powers have accused leader Moammar Gadhafi of breaking an earlier truce announced after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over his country.

And the message contradicted a defiant vow he made hours before.

By phone, Gadhafi told state television he would not let up on the rebel capital of Benghazi and had opened up his weapons depots to civilians so they could join in the fight.

“We promise you a long war,” he said.

The assault on Libya began as government tanks and troops were aggressively closing in on Benghazi and threatening to crush the opposition.

The U.S. Navy fired 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and British and French fighter jets carried out airstrikes on government targets.

The opposition reported Gadhafi’s troops had struck back after daylight on Sunday, continuing to bombard the rebel-held city of Misrata with artillery and tanks.

State television reported 48 people – mostly children – had been killed and 150 injured in the coalition’s nighttime attack, but top U.S. military officer Adm. Mike Mullen said he had seen no reports of civilian casualties.

Hundreds of rebels and civilians have died since the uprising against Gadhafi’s 41-year dictatorship began on Feb. 15.

With files from the Associated Press