Gaddafi denies exit talks as jets pound rebel positions
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Libyan authorities have denied claims that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is seeking a negotiated exit from the country as loyalist forces continue to pound rebel-held positions, fuelling support for plans to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.
Uncertainty reigned in Libya more than two weeks after a popular uprising against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi that has led to a UN-estimated 1,000 deaths and divided the oil-rich African country into two warring sides.
Armed fighters from both camps exchanged fire in isolated attacks, while rumours of a negotiated exit for Gaddafi and the implementation of a no-fly zone circulated in the international media.
A spokesman for the rebels' interim transitional council in Benghazi, known as the Libyan National Council, said Tuesday that Gaddafi was trying negotiate a favourable exit for he and his family.
Mustafa Gheriani told FRANCE 24 that a former regime minister had asked rebels for assurances of safety and legal immunity for Gaddafi and his family, with a view to the strongman’s departure.
Gheriani said such negotiations, while unofficial, were firmly rejected by the council: “We do not negotiate with Gaddafi, the man who spilled the blood of the Libyan people. We reject any attempt by him to negotiate anything.”
However, AFP quoted the council's president, Mustafa Abdeljalil, as saying that the opposition would not seek legal action against Gaddafi if he stepped down and left the country.
Gaddafi’s regime in Tripoli was swift to dismiss the allegations of an overture, telling FRANCE 24 correspondent Willy Bracciano that it firmly denied initiating negotiations with rebels.
In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 on Sunday, Gaddafi himself rejected claims that mediation efforts were being pursued by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, adding that the rebels were none other than “armed gangs” that would be routed.
Support for no-fly zone mounts
On the international front, pressure piled up on the UN to implement a no-fly zone over Libya, which would prevent Gaddafi loyalists from carrying out air strikes on rebels.
France and Great Britain were reportedly drafting a resolution for a no fly-zone to be debated by the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday. But the United States has made clear its reluctance to open a new military front in North Africa.
Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told US lawmakers that the Obama administration was “a long way” from agreeing to set up a no-fly zone.
“Let’s just call a spade a spade,” US Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained the same day. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone.”
The Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Organisation of the Islamic Council, which includes 56 countries, have expressed support for a no-fly zone.
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