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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Libyan rebel leader in Paris, conflict deadlocked


Libyan rebel chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Wednesday as Western powers struggle to break a deadlock in the two-month conflict.

Jalil was expected to ask NATO to increase air strikes but he could also supply a list of names of officials in Tripoli the opposition would be willing to work with if Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi departs, a source close to the Libyan opposition said.

Sarkozy's office said the talks would focus on how to bring about a democratic transition in Libya.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al Obeidi also hinted that Gaddafi's future might be up for negotiation, something the government side has hitherto refused to countenance, and said elections could be held if Western air strikes stopped.

"If the bombing stopped, al Obeidi said, after six months the could be an election supervised by the U.N.," BBC radio reported.

"The foreign minister said the election could cover any issue raised by all Libyans, anything could go on the table, including, he implied, the future of Gaddafi as leader."


Fighting between Gaddafi's forces and rebels appears to have reached a stalemate in eastern Libya on a frontline just west of the strategic road junction at Ajdabiyah.

In the west, the rebels' only major stronghold, Misrata, has been besieged by government troops for more than seven weeks.

Libya's third city, where hundreds are believed to have been killed by shelling and sniper fire by Gaddafi's forces, is the main focus of efforts to protect civilians caught up in Gaddafi's bid to put down a rebellion against his 41-year rule.

Nine weeks after the rebellion broke out, NATO air strikes have failed to halt the bombardment of Misrata and have not gone beyond evening the balance of power between Gaddafi's troops and the rebels in the east.

Many NATO members refuse to go beyond enforcing the U.N.-mandated no-fly zone to attack Gaddafi's forces, despite the urging of France and Britain, and the United States which has largely withdrawn its strike aircraft from the operation.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden said NATO did not lack the capability to achieve its mission of protecting the civilian population and enforcing the no-fly zone. What it sometimes lacks, he said, is the political will.

"It is totally, thoroughly, completely within the capacity of NATO," he told the Financial Times. "Occasionally other countries lack the will, but this is not about capacity."

The United States' strategic priorities lay elsewhere, notably in neighboring Egypt, he said.


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