Libya: Gaddafi must step down, says 'contact group'

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The newly formed international “contact group” on Libya has called for Muammar Gaddafi to stand down as leader.

Qatar’s Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani enounced the move at an international summit on Libya in his country’s capital, Doha.

Rebels seeking to topple Col Gaddafi are making their first high-profile diplomatic appearance at the summit.

Giving the rebels military, political and financial support is being discussed, as will Nato’s role.

Earlier, delegates were told by UN chief Ban Ki-moon that more than half of the country’s population might eventually require humanitarian aid.

Ahead of the meeting, the French and British foreign ministers said Nato should be doing more in Libya.

The “contact group” was formed at an international ministerial conference in London on 29 March and includes European powers, the US, allies from the Middle East and a number of international organisations.
‘Tarnished image’

Opening the summit, the Qatari crown prince said that Libya was facing a humanitarian crisis.

He said: “The suffering of the Libyan people is not a natural disaster – it is the outcome of political decisions and political behaviour.”

The crown prince said that by blaming extremists for the crisis, the Libyan government was “tarnishing the image of their people so they can remain in power”.

“The Libyan people are not begging – they are a great people with great resources but they have been prevented from exercising their rights and developing their resources.”

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said there were three main aims for the summit:

* Maintaining the pressure on the Gaddafi regime by implementing the UN resolutions and sanctions, and ensuring that Col Gaddafi leaves power
* Discussing the stabilisation plan for peace-building in Libya
* Endorsing a political process leading to a democratic Libya, including the establishment of a temporary financial mechanism to help the opposition-controlled areas of Libya

The UN secretary general told delegates that the humanitarian situation in Libya continued to worsen.

“Under our worst-case scenario, as many 3.6 million people could eventually require humanitarian assistance,” he told delegates. Libya has a population of six million.

Mr Ban added that almost half a million people had left the country since the crisis began.

“On average, 2,700 people cross to Tunisia and Egypt every day. Roughly 330,000 people have been internally displaced.”

Mr Ban urged nations to speak with “one voice”, but divisions were apparent ahead of the Qatar talks.

Britain and France, which have been carrying out most of the air strikes, want greater military effort from other coalition members.

Italian officials also suggested that arming the rebels would be discussed.

However, Germany said it saw no military solution to the Libyan crisis.

And Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere said: “The UN resolution speaks about protecting civilians, not arming them.”

Germany also said a proposal to fund the opposition from frozen Gaddafi assets could present legal problems.

Koussa’s attendance

Correspondents say it will also be difficult to get agreement on a firm call for Col Gaddafi’s departure.

At the London conference, it was said only that he had lost legitimacy.

Mr Hague said on Wednesday: “Any viable ceasefire, any viable peaceful future for Libya must involve the departure of Col Gaddafi so such statements may be clearer as a result of our conference.”

He said Col Gaddafi’s government was “internationally isolated”, adding: “It has no future under some of the most sweeping sanctions that the United Nations has ever adopted and so the writing is on the wall for the Gaddafi regime.”

However, a spokesman for the African Union, which has been trying to broker a ceasefire, said there was no agreement on regime change.

Noureddine Mezni said: “We cannot as international or regional organisations say, ‘go’.”

Earlier this week the rebels’ Transitional National Council (TNC) rejected the African Union proposal for a ceasefire, because it did not provide for Col Gaddafi’s immediate departure.

The TNC, which attended on the sidelines of the London conference, has been invited to address the meeting in Qatar as it continues its campaign to gain international recognition as the voice of the Libyan people.

Among those also due to attend the talks will be former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa, who fled to the UK late last month. – BBC