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Could Gaddafi step down from power but remain in Libya?

France has suggested it may be possible.

Muammar Gaddafi
Muammar Gaddafi
Image: Associated Press Photo

LIBYA’S CIVIL WAR could be ended by allowing Muammar Gaddafi to stay in the country if he relinquishes power, according to France’s foreign minister.

Gaddafi, the embattled leader who has been in power for over 40-years, insists he will neither step down nor flee the country. With the NATO-led air campaign against Gaddafi’s forces entering its fifth month and the fighting in a stalemate, the international community is seeking exit strategies.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy met in Paris on Wednesday with three rebel leaders from the western port city of Misrata who are seeking aid and arms to move toward Tripoli. Sarkozy announced no specific measures in response.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France wants to keep “a very close link” with the rebels “to see how we can help.”

Asked whether Gaddafi could stay in Libya under house arrest, for example, Juppe said on LCI television Wednesday:

One of the hypotheses that is envisaged is that he stays in Libya, on one condition … that he clearly steps aside from Libya’s political life. This is what we are waiting for before launching a political process.

Juppe said last week that Gaddafi was “prepared to leave” power according to some reports but it has been difficult to establish how credible such reports may be.

The rebels initially insisted that Gaddafi leave the country, but some are not ruling out the possibility that he could stay in Libya if he gives up power. The two sides have been locked in a stalemate with the rebels unable to advance beyond pockets in the west despite a NATO air campaign against Gaddafi’s forces.

Rebel forces hold most of the east but have been unable to wrest the strategic oil town of Brega from Gaddafi’s forces.

Mohammed Idris, a doctor at the Ajdabiya hospital where the casualties were taken, said 27 rebels were killed and 83 others were wounded Tuesday in fighting for Brega. That raised the six day death toll to 53.

Libya’s government spokesman has put the rebel death toll closer to 500.

Rebel military leaders Ramadan Zarmouh and Ahmed Hachem and the Misrata representative of the opposition government, Souleiman Fortia, met with Sarkozy on Wednesday.

“Their message was the following: what we did to liberate our city, we can do it to move forward towards Tripoli,” said French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, who helped organize the meeting and has championed the Libyan rebel cause.

If they (the rebels) have the means, they just need a few days to reach the doors of Tripoli. They are expected in the three cities before Tripoli by experienced fighters who are just waiting for them. So a few days will be enough.

He said Sarkozy listened to them but did not say whether any aid or arms were pledged.

France has played a driving role in the NATO-led campaign of airstrikes, mandated by the UN to protect civilians from a crackdown by Gaddafi’s forces on an uprising against his rule, amid revolts this year around the Arab world.

Last week, more than 30 nations including the United States gave the Libyan rebels a boost by recognising their National Transitional Council as the country’s legitimate government, potentially freeing up billions of dollars in urgently needed cash.

Read more on the Libyan conflict >

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