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Libya contact group meets amid Gaddafi defiance

The Libya “contact group” of 15 countries are meeting in Istanbul Friday to discuss how to fund Libyan rebels and to see how a negotiated settlement could work. But Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi remains defiant and is taking the fight to the rebels.

Top diplomats from some 15 countries are meeting in Istanbul Friday in an attempt to find a diplomatic solution to the military stalemate in Libya.
It is the fourth meeting of the Libyan “contact group”, which includes US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and his French counterpart Alain Juppé.
On the table are options for granting the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) loans in lieu of Libyan funds that are frozen in international bank accounts.
The TNC is desperate for cash, not only to fund the fight against Gaddafi, but also to maintain basic services in rebel-held areas.
The contact group will also be discussing ways in which a negotiated settlement between the rebels and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi could work.
France played a leading role in rallying world support for the rebel movement and was the first country to recognise the TNC in March.
France also said this week it had had “contacts” with the Gaddafi Regime in Tripoli, and on Tuesday said that a diplomatic solution was within reach.
The US, however, has warned of contradictory messages coming out of Tripoli.
And in the context of determined fighting from troops loyal to Gaddafi this week, a quiet exit by the strongman may be wishful thinking, said FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Istanbul Jasper Mortimer.
“Gaddafi has repeatedly said he will fight to the end,” Mortimer said. “He may well be bluffing, but as long as his troops keep fighting back as they did yesterday we have to take him at his word.”
Gaddafi defiant
Gaddafi’s men, despite being weakened by the NATO bombing, have been taking the fight to the rebels, who on Thursday were trying to solidify their positions near Asabah, a strategic city 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of capital Tripoli.
"Yesterday, we got to within six kilometres (four miles) of Asabah, but most of our forces have returned" to Gualish, where rebels were resisting a counterattack by loyalist troops in the desert hamlet, said local commander Abdel Majid Salem.
Salem said the bulk of the rebels had returned to "secure the area" around Gualish, which was attacked and captured by soldiers loyal to the Tripoli regime earlier in the week.
Reinforcements later poured in from villages and drove the loyalists out, chasing them up the road toward Asabah.
On Thursday Gaddafi urged his men to march on the rebel capital Benghazi, in eastern Libya, to liberate the city of “traitors.”
"The hour of battle has sounded,” he said in a message relayed by loudspeaker across capitel Tripoli. “Prepare to march on Benghazi and on [rebel-held] Misrata, and on the mountains of the west.
“We are here and we will stay here on this ground ... I will stay with my people until the last drop of my blood is spilled," a defiant Gaddafi said.


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