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Thursday, June 9, 2011

World powers plan for ‘post-Qaddafi’ in Abu Dhabi as rebels are promised cash

Major powers met Thursday to map out what Washington calls an inevitable “post-Qaddafi Libya” as hundreds of millions of dollars poured into an international fund to aid rebels.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, meanwhile, urged Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to step down, “the sooner the better,” as he became the first head of state to visit the rebels’ bastion of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of the United States and counterparts from NATO and other countries participating in air strikes against Mr. Qaddafi’s forces held their third round of Libya talks in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi.

“Qaddafi’s days are numbered. We are working with our international partners through the UN to plan for the inevitable: a post-Qaddafi Libya,” Mrs. Clinton told participants of the International Contact Group, according to her prepared remarks distributed by aides.

“Time is on our side,” the chief US diplomat said, adding the international military, economic and political pressure was mounting on the Libyan colonel who has been in power for four decades.

“In the days ahead,” she said, “we have to coordinate the many plans taking shape and work closely” with the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) and Libya’s people.

“Each of these efforts helps us to protect the Libyan people and lay the groundwork for a unified, democratic, and peaceful future,” she said.

But Mrs. Clinton offered no direct US financial contribution to the protesters, pledging instead another “$26.5 million to help all the victims of this conflict, including Libyan refugees.”

Such money will likely be distributed through relief agencies.

US officials said the United States would urge Arab countries to offer more funds to the revolt administration.

The Obama administration, already criticized by some domestic opponents for allowing Britain and France to take the lead in the NATO mission after an initial US blitz, appears to want others to take the lead in offering financial aid to the rebels.

Libya’s former foreign minister and envoy to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Shalgam, told journalists the NTC needs at least $3 billion over the next four months for current expenses.

Financial support

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Rome would provide the revolt council with loans and fuel products worth 300 to 400 million Euros ($438 million to $584 million). Kuwait said that it would transfer $180 million to the Libyan rebels.

His French counterpart, Alain Juppe, said his government would release 290 million Euros ($420.9 million) of frozen Libyan funds for the benefit of the NTC.

A member of the NTC said on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi meeting that an international fund aimed at helping Libya’s protesters had “become operational” from Thursday.

A State Department official later told reporters “we have got commitments of something about $300 million that came out of today’s meeting,” including $180 million from Kuwait and $100 million from Qatar, according to AFP.

The opposition has complained that it has seen nothing concrete since the contact group last met on May 5 in Rome when the powers agreed to set up a fund to aid the rebels and promised to tap frozen Qaddafi assets.

A US official told reporters on condition of anonymity on Wednesday that Washington could not determine whether the NTC was “ready to assume complete control” even if Mr. Qaddafi’s fall was only a matter of time.

He also cautioned there was no international consensus over when Mr. Qaddafi should leave power, where he should go, or even whether he should leave Libya.

Australia recognizes NTC

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia, meanwhile, said that his country has recognized Libya’s rebel Transitional National Council as the country’s legitimate political representative, according to Reuters.

“We do not recognize governments, we recognize states,” he told reporters at the summit.

He called the council “the legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people, and we use that formulation deliberately.”

“The emerging consensus view among this group of foreign ministers is that Qaddafi’s days are well and truly numbered,” Mr. Rudd said, adding that the end “may come sooner than many of you in this room may think.”

In Benghazi, Senegal’s president issued an appeal to the 68-year-old colonel as he paid a visit to the revolt capital, saying: “I look at you in the eyes... the sooner you go, the better.”

On the battlefront, explosions continued to rock the Libyan capital.

NATO pounds Tripoli

Four blasts shook Tripoli on Thursday afternoon, AFP reported. Overnight, other explosions echoed through the city from near Mr. Qaddafi’s compound.

The chief of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, said in testimony before the Senate Thursday the NATO military operation, strong economic sanctions, and enforcement of the no-fly zone are putting tremendous pressure on Mr. Qaddafi, The Associated Press reported. President Obama has named Mr. Panetta to take over from Robert Gates as Defense Secretary this summer. Mr. Gates, a Republican, is retiring, after having served both Mr. Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The Western alliance said it carried out 47 strike sorties on Wednesday, hitting a vehicle storage facility in Tripoli and a missile storage facility, a missile site, a command and control facility, a tank, and four armored fighting vehicles just outside.

NATO said it also hit an electronic warfare vehicle and a military training camp near Libya’s third-largest city Misrata. Libya’s population is estimated at six million.

The Mediterranean city is the most significant rebel-held enclave in western Libya and an opposition spokesman said up to 3,000 Qaddafi troops attacked it in a three-pronged movement from the south, west and east on Wednesday.

Twelve people were killed and 33 wounded in the fighting in which Mr. Qaddafi’s forces deployed gunships, tanks and Grad rocket launchers as well as mortars, the spokesman, Hassan Al Galai, told AFP by telephone from the city.

(Abeer Tayel, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English,

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