Gaddafi's fall from power inevitable, Obama says

WASHINGTON/TRIPOLI – Only Muammar Gaddafi's exit from power will allow Libya a democratic transition and the clock is ticking on his four-decade rule, U.S. President Barack Obama said.\r\n

NATO said on Friday it had sunk eight of Gaddafi’s warships as military and diplomatic pressure builds on the Libyan leader, whose departure Obama described as “inevitable.”

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Obama was speaking in an address on the Middle East and North Africa where uprisings this year have toppled authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt and inspired the Libyan revolt.

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“Time is working against Gaddafi. He does not have control over his country. The opposition has organised a legitimate and credible Interim Council,” Obama said in Washington on Thursday.

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“When Gaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed,” he said, defending his decision to take military action against the Libyan leader’s government.

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Three months into the unrest, rebels control eastern Libya and pockets in the west but the conflict has reached a stalemate as rebel attempts to advance on Tripoli have stalled.

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Obama’s comments echoed NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who said military and political pressure was weakening Gaddafi and would eventually topple him.

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“Obama is still delusional,” Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said. “He believes the lies that his own government and media spread around the world…It’s not Obama who decides whether Muammar Gaddafi leaves Libya or not. It’s the Libyan people.”

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Tripoli however reiterated a ceasefire offer, saying forces were ready to withdraw from cities if the rebels laid down arms. But the rebels have rejected all advances so far, saying they cannot trust Gaddafi and insisting on his departure. 

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A series of apparent high-level defections suggest Gaddafi is struggling to hold his inner circle together. Libya’s top oil official Shokri Ghanem has left and not been heard from for days although his name has appeared on a list on a flight to Vienna.

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Tripoli says he is on an official visit to Europe but Tunisian and rebel sources say he has defected.

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Senegal late on Thursday recognised Libya’s Benghazi-based rebels as the legitimate opposition and said they should be given international support to lead transition to democratic elections.

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VESSELS HIT

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Acting under a U.N. mandate, NATO allies including France, Britain and the United States are conducting air strikes that aim to stop Gaddafi using military force against civilians.

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NATO aircraft sank eight warships in overnight attacks on the ports of Tripoli, Al Khums and Sirte, the alliance said.

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Libyan officials took journalists to Tripoli port where a small ship spewed smoke and flames, and cast doubt on whether boats targeted by NATO had been involved in fighting.

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Mohammad Ahmad Rashed, general manager of Tripoli’s port, said six boats had been hit by missiles.

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The boats, five belonging to the coastguard and a larger naval vessel, had been undergoing maintenance since before the start of the fighting, he told reporters, adding that the port was still functional and capable of handling commercial traffic, 

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NATO bombs struck Tripoli, Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte and Zlitan east of the capital, state TV said late on Thursday.

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It also showed footage of Gaddafi meeting a Libyan politician in Tripoli. Government spokesman Ibrahim said the politician had been in a delegation that met Russian officials in Moscow to explore possibilities for a ceasefire.

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The footage zoomed in on a TV screen in the room that showed Thursday’s date displayed in the corner.

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Gaddafi was last seen on May 11 when state TV showed him meeting tribal leaders in Tripoli. NATO bombed his compound the next day, and a day later TV broadcast an audio clip in which he taunted NATO and said the alliance could not kill him.

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Wade

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Meanwhile, the Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade has recognised Libya’s Benghazi-based rebels as the legitimate opposition and said they should be given international support to lead the country’s transition to democratic elections.  

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Senegal’s position, made known after a visit by officials of the rebel delegation National Transitional Council, appears to go further than that of the African Union, which has urged a ceasefire but not gone as far as recognising the rebels.

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“President Wade declared that he recognised … Mustafa Abdel Jalil and the political forces he represents as the established and legitimate opposition, whose natural role — with African and international support — is to prepare republican institutions in Libya via democratic, free and transparent elections,” a presidency statement late on Thursday said.

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Jalil is the head of the rebel council. He was not part of the delegation, according to the Senegalese statement.

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Senegal’s reaffirmed its position that the process of removing Muammar Gaddafi from power was “irreversible”.

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Wade sees himself as one of Africa’s elder statesmen and has long sought to mediate in the continent’s crises, including Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Mauritania and Sudan. But the results have been mixed.

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The AU has complained that its efforts to seek an end to the conflict in Libya have been derailed by Western nations, who have led a military campaign to neutralise Gaddafi’s forces.

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U.S. President Barack Obama also said that Gaddafi would eventually leave power, as NATO intensified its weeks-long bombing of government targets and said on Friday it had sunk eight Libyan warships.