Abu Dhabi talks plan for post-Gaddafi Libya
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Western and Arab countries met in Abu Dhabi on Thursday to discuss how to end the conflict in Libya and what shape the country's political life might take if or when its leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, leaves power.
AFP - Key powers met Thursday to map out what Washington calls an inevitable "post-Kadhafi Libya" as more signs emerged that Kadhafi wanted out and more than one billion dollars flowed toward the rebels.
The United States joined Australia and Spain in recognising the rebels National Transitional Council (NTC) as the legitimate representative of Libyans, following the examples of France, Italy, Britain, Jordan, Qatar, Malta and Gambia.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, meanwhile, urged Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi to step down, "the sooner the better," as he became the first head of state to visit the rebels' bastion of Benghazi in eastern Libya.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and counterparts from NATO and other countries participating in air strikes against Kadhafi's forces held their third round of Libya talks in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi.
"Kadhafi's days are numbered. We are working with our international partners through the UN to plan for the inevitable: a post-Kadhafi Libya," Clinton told participants, according to her prepared remarks.
"Time is on our side," the chief US diplomat said, adding the international military, economic and political pressure was mounting on the Libyan colonel to abandon his four decades in power.
"In the days ahead," she said, "we have to coordinate the many plans taking shape and work closely" with the rebels' NTC and Libya's people.
"Each of these efforts helps us to protect the Libyan people and lay the groundwork for a unified, democratic, and peaceful future," she said.
Clinton said later that "people close to Kadhafi" have been making continuous contacts with many different interlocutors about the "potential for a transition" to a new regime.
"There is not a clear way forward yet," the chief US diplomat told a news conference.
But she said the international community must over the next month, when more talks on Libya are held in Istanbul, make "sure that all of those contacts are understood and evaluated because they occur with many different interlocutors."
World powers, she said, then "must begin the very difficult but necessary work with both the (rebel council) and the Kadhafi regime to try to bring about the kind of transition from power" that is needed.
Amid growing diplomatic support for the NTC, Clinton also called the council "the legitimate interlocutor" of the Libyan people as US President Barack Obama's administration sought to promote a peaceful transition process.
But Clinton offered no direct US financial contribution to the rebels, pledging instead another "$26.5 million to help all the victims of this conflict, including Libyan refugees."
Such money will likely be distributed through relief agencies.
US officials said the United States would urge Arab countries to offer more funds to the rebel administration.
Libya's former foreign minister and envoy to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Shalgam, told journalists the NTC needs at least three billion dollars over the next four months for current expenses.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Rome would provide the rebel council with loans and fuel products worth 300 to 400 million euros ($438 million to $584 million).
His French counterpart, Alain Juppe, said his government would release 290 million euros ($420.9 million) of frozen Libyan funds for the benefit of the NTC.
A member of the NTC said on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi meeting that an international fund aimed at helping Libya's rebels had "become operational" from Thursday.
A State Department official later told reporters "we have got commitments of something about 300 million dollars that came out of today's meeting," including 180 million dollars from Kuwait and 100 million from Qatar.
In Benghazi, Senegal's president issued an appeal to Kadhafi as he paid a visit to the rebel capital, saying: "I look at you in the eyes... the sooner you go, the better."
On the battlefront, explosions continued to rock Tripoli.
Four blasts shook the capital on Thursday afternoon, an AFP journalist said, although unable to pinpoint their location. Overnight, other explosions echoed through the city from near Kadhafi's compound, an AFP correspondent reported.
The Western alliance said it carried out 47 strike sorties on Wednesday, hitting a vehicle storage facility in Tripoli and a missile storage facility, a missile site, a command and control facility, a tank, and four armoured fighting vehicles just outside.
NATO said it also hit an electronic warfare vehicle and a military training camp near Libya's third-largest city Misrata.
The Mediterranean city is the most significant rebel-held enclave in western Libya and a rebel spokesman said up to 3,000 Kadhafi troops attacked it in a three-pronged movement from the south, west and east on Wednesday.
Twelve people were killed and 33 wounded in the fighting in which Kadhafi's forces deployed gunships, tanks and Grad rocket launchers as well as mortars, the spokesman, Hassan al-Galai, told AFP by telephone from the city.