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Western, Arab nations say Qadhafi must go

Delegates from the Libya Contact Group meet in Doha, Qatar. Libyan rebels were in Qatar’s capital to call for stronger international pressure on Muammar Qadhafi’s regime as Western and Arab envoys gather to discuss options. –AP Photo/Osama Faisal

TRIPOLI: Diplomats will make a new effort to forge an end to the Libyan civil war on Thursday, after agreeing to call for Muammar Qadhafi to leave power but failing to forge a unified strategy to force him out.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Arab League head Amr Moussa and officials from the African Union and Organisation of the Islamic Conference will discuss Libya at Arab League headquarters in Cairo.

Foreign ministers from a group of Western powers and Middle Eastern states met on Wednesday in Qatar and jointly called for the first time for an end to Qadhafi’s 41-year rule.

Britain and France are leading air strikes against Qadhafi’s forces, but have grown frustrated with the lack of support from Nato allies. After heading up the campaign in its early days, Washington is taking a back seat, and other Nato states are playing smaller roles.

“Qadhafi and his regime has lost all legitimacy and he must leave power allowing the Libyan people to determine their future,” the “contact group” of Western and Middle Eastern states meeting in Qatar said in a final statement on Wednesday.

It also said the rebels’ national council, “in contrast with the current regime is a legitimate interlocutor, representing the aspirations of the Libyan people”.

The wording was much tougher than at a conference two weeks ago and gave stronger backing to insurgents fighting to end Qadhafi’s 41-year rule, but it papered over divisions among the allies on what action to take.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for more alliance members to join attacks on ground targets and his French counterpart, Alain Juppe, called for heavier military pressure on Qadhafi’s troops to convince him to leave power.

But Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere said the March 17 UN resolution authorising Nato action in Libya — to protect civilians from Qadhafi’s government forces — ruled out arming civilians and he saw no need to boost air power there.

The rebels said they were in talks with “friendly” countries to obtain arms: “I don’t think there will be a problem getting weapons,” national council spokesman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga told reporters in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

A French presidential source said Paris had no plans to arm the rebels, although it would not oppose other countries if they decided to do so.

Britain said on Wednesday it would supply 1,000 sets of body armour from surplus British defence supplies to Libyan rebels, on top of the 100 satellite phones already sent.

Rebels have reported heavy fighting in Misrata, their last major stronghold in the western part of the country, and clashes with Qadhafi troops east of Brega, a government-held port in the largely rebel-held east.

A resident and rebel sympathiser in Misrata named Ghassan said on Wednesday that rebels had pushed back government forces on its central Tripoli Street.

“After they withdrew they fired artillery at the Al-Bira neighbourhood, which lies in the centre near Tripoli Street,” he said. “We haven’t been able to reach the hospital to check whether there were any people killed or injured.”

Another rebel spokesman called Abdelrahman told Reuters that rebel fighters had attacked pro-Qadhafi forces on a hill west of Zintan, the rebels’ other redoubt in the west, on Wednesday.

“There were no Nato air strikes today. The last air strike in the Zintan area was on Friday,” he said. “The main problem in Zintan is from fuel shortages. There are also water shortages and electricity is not always available.”

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