Libya denies Russian report Gaddafi seeking way out
Jul 5, 2011, 6:20 p.m.
By Lamine Chikhi
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi is sounding out the possibility of handing over power, a Russian newspaper reported on Tuesday, but the Libyan government denied it was in talks about the veteran leader stepping down.
Five months into a conflict that has embroiled NATO and become the bloodiest of the "Arab Spring" uprisings, there has been a flurry of reports about talks on Gaddafi ending his four decades in power in exchange for security guarantees.
Russia's respected Kommersant newspaper based its story on a high-level source in Moscow. The report was denied in Tripoli, and Italy said it believed talk of a deal was a ruse by Gaddafi's administration to sow confusion.
"Information about negotiations about Gaddafi stepping down or seeking a safe refuge inside or outside the country is simply untrue," Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told Reuters.
"Gaddafi is not negotiable, this is our position of principle, and the future of Libya will be decided by Libyans. Gaddafi is an historical symbol, and Libyans will die to defend him," said Ibrahim.
The United States reiterated its position that Gaddafi should step down. "We support whatever's going to get us to a place where Gaddafi knows it's time for him to go," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Fighting between government forces and rebels continued, with rebels taking some of the heaviest shelling in recent weeks.
A Reuters reporter in Misrata, 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, said rebel positions in the Dafniya district on the city's western outskirts came under heavy artillery fire on Tuesday.
The bodies of rebel fighters were taken to Misrata's al-Hekma hospital and a hospital source said the death toll from the shelling had risen to 11 with 42 fighters wounded.
Many of them were in a critical condition, and some would need to have limbs amputated, staff at the hospital said.
On Monday, Gaddafi's forces ambushed rebels south of Misrata, killing six and injuring 22, said Abdelsalam, a rebel spokesman in Misrata.
The rebels said again they would not compromise on letting Gaddafi remain in the country as a free man.
"Any solution that doesn't include Gaddafi stepping down and facing trial or leaving Libya is unacceptable," Abdelsalam said.
Some analysts say Gaddafi is starting to contemplate an exit as shortages of cash and fuel, the NATO bombing campaign and rebel military pressure shorten the odds on him being able to hold on to power.
But Western diplomats caution it is in Gaddafi's interest to send out conflicting signals about possible deals, in the hope of sowing confusion among the rebels and the fragile Western alliance trying to push him out.
Kommersant newspaper reported Western powers, including France, were receptive to a deal with Gaddafi if he agreed to step down.
"The colonel (Gaddafi) is sending signals that he is prepared to relinquish power in exchange for security guarantees," the newspaper quoted what it called a high-level source in the Russian leadership as saying.
The report came a day after Russia hosted South African President Jacob Zuma -- who has tried to broker a peace deal for Libya -- and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen for talks which focused on Libya.
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