Last updated: July 26, 2011 6:17 pm

Libya rejects Gaddafi proposal

The Libyan prime minister has rejected the suggestion that Colonel Gaddafi could leave power but remain in Libya as part of a negotiated settlement to bring the conflict there to an end.

Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi made his comments on Tuesday, soon after meeting Abdel-Elah al-Khatib, the UN special envoy for Libya, who has been authorised to offer terms to Colonel Gaddafi.

Western officials had hoped that a recent softening on the issue of Col Gaddafi from France and the UK would bring an end to his rule, and the conflict. Both France and Britain have recently changed their stance on whether Col Gaddafi should leave the country as well as power.

William Hague, the UK foreign secretary said on Monday that whether or not Colonel Gaddafi stayed in Libya was “ultimately a question for the Libyans”.

“It is for the Libyan people to determine their own future. Whatever happens, Gaddafi must leave power,” Mr Hague added.

But Mr Mahmoudi retorted: “He can’t decide on behalf of the Libyan people. What’s important to us is what Libyans decide, not what William Hague decides.”

Mr Hague’s comments came a week after a similar move by Alain Juppé, the French foreign minister, who said one scenario for the Libyan leader would be “that he stays in Libya on one condition, which I repeat: that he very clearly steps aside from Libyan political life”.

Mr Juppé earlier this month confirmed the existence of “unofficial contacts” between the Libyan regime and members of the Nato-led coalition. Under discussion was the idea that Col Gaddafi could be allowed to remain in the country on the understanding that he stepped down, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

This position has also been endorsed by the rebel forces. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the Libyan opposition leader, said over the weekend: “Gaddafi can stay in Libya but it will have conditions. We will decide where he stays and who watches him. The same conditions will apply to his family.”

The moves come amid signs that the five-month Libyan campaign has become mired in stalemate. British army chiefs have previously warned that the nation’s armed forces, already stretched by simultaneous deployments in Afghanistan, would be severely challenged if the Libyan operations continue longer than six months.

British officials denied the change in tone marked a U-turn, despite reports that the French had forced a change in policy from the Foreign Office. One official said: “There is a degree of sequencing here. If you are trying to get a political process started ... you start from the point that Gaddafi has to leave power. We will deal with his future after that in due course.”

But Mr Mahmoudi said on Tuesday: “We believe that the Libyan population has made itself very clear. They are not negotiating the future of Muammer Gaddafi.”

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