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French foreign minister Alain Juppe says it might be too late to take momentum from Muammar Gaddafi's forces. Bela Szandelszky/AP

France admits: it may be too late to oust Gaddafi

Foreign minister Alain Juppe says world leaders might have waited too long – and that Gaddafi is gaining too much strength.

FRANCE FOREIGN MINISTER has admitted it already may be too late for world powers to help Libyan opposition fighters repel an advance eastward by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces.

In a radio interview before meeting his G8 counterparts in Paris, Alain Juppe suggested that events on the ground in Libya have already outpaced diplomatic efforts – and said the G8 members still remained short of an agreement on the matter.

Many countries have called for an end to Gaddafi’s 42-year autocratic reign, but economic sanctions have so far failed to stop his regime and there has been no agreement on a no-fly zone despite pleas by rebels and a call from the Arab League.

In recent days, Libyan government forces backed by warplanes, artillery and mortar shells have pushed eastward, and recaptured territory once held by the rebels.

“If we had used military force last week to neutraliee some airstrips and the several dozen planes that they have, perhaps the reversal taking place to the detriment of the opposition wouldn’t have happened,” Juppe told Europe 1 radio.

“But that’s the past. What is happening today shows us that we may have let slip by a chance.”

Juppe, in one of the few public remarks by the diplomats as today’s closed-door meeting got underway, also said the world powers remain short of an accord about how to stem the bloodshed.

He said the foreign ministers agree that efforts at the UN Security Council are needed to pressure Gaddafi’s regime, and that Arab countries should be on board.

The pressure, Juppe added, could include “reinforcing sanctions, decreeing a maritime embargo and foreseeing a no-fly zone — even if that’s not a panacea.”

Also at the meeting, which has been planned for months, the ministers were focusing on Libya, Japan’s post-earthquake crisis, and other pressing world issues.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who had yesterday met with her counterparts and French President Nicolas Sarkozy – is en route to Egypt for talks and is not attending the ministers’ gathering.

Clinton yesterday held the US’s first high-level talks with the Libyan rebels, in efforts to decide how much help the US would offer their cause – one Washington concedes it still knows little about.

Additional reporting by AP

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