Post-Kadhafi future in focus at London meeting

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More than 35 countries will attend a conference in London on Tuesday to map out a post-Kadhafi future for Libya with France and Britain urging the rebels to lead a push to democracy.

As the rebels close in on Moamer Kadhafi's home town of Sirte with the help of Western air strikes, the international community wants to support the "transition from violent dictatorship", Paris and London said.

It will be the first meeting of the "contact group", comprised of countries led by the French, British and the Americans who are carrying out military attacks on pro-regime forces, as well as countries that support the action.

Ahead of the meeting, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron issued a joint call Monday for Kadhafi to go and Libya's rebel national council and civil society leaders to steer the country towards democracy.

"The current regime has completely lost its legitimacy," the French and British leaders said in a joint statement.

"Kadhafi must therefore go immediately. We call on all his followers to leave him before it is too late.

"We call on all Libyans who believe that Kadhafi is leading Libya into a disaster to take the initiative now to organise a transition process."

The path to transition "could include the Interim National Transitional Council", the main rebel group, who should "begin a national political dialogue, leading to a representative process of transition, constitutional reform and preparation for free and fair elections."

France is the only Western country to have officially recognised the rebels. Qatar followed suit on Monday.

On the sidelines of the London meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may hold talks with Mahmoud Jibril, the Libyan opposition leader whom she met in Paris two weeks ago.

However, the British government was unable to confirm if any representatives of the Libyan opposition would be present in London.

The West decided at a meeting in the French capital on March 19 to carry out air strikes in support of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which allows citizens to be protected from pro-regime forces and the implementation of a no-fly zone.

Nine days later, the air strikes on Kadhafi's tanks and armoured cars appear to have dramatically tipped the balance in favour of the rebels.

Cameron told lawmakers Monday it was up to the people of Libya to choose how they are governed and who governs them, "but they have a far better chance of doing that as we stand today than they did 10 days ago"

"Had we not acted, their future would have already been decided for them."

NATO finally agreed Sunday to take over full command of military operations to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya from a US-led coalition, clarifying an issue which has dogged international thinking.

While France, Britain and the United States have driven forward the military action on Libya, they have been determined to ensure Arab nations are seen to be supporting their efforts.

On Tuesday, Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia and Morocco will all be represented, as well as the Arab League.

Italy, Libya's former colonial masters, appeared to have taken the British hosts by surprise when Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he would present a a plan to offer Kadhafi exile.

But an Italian foreign ministry spokesman later played down the initiative, saying it was only just beginning to discuss proposals on the post-Kadhafi era.

Cameron's spokesman meanwhile maintained that Kadhafi and other figures in the regime should face a war crimes court.

Also closely watched on Tuesday will be the role of regional power Turkey, which last week finally backed the no-fly zone and pledged warships to enforce an arms embargo off Libya's coast, but has expressed anger at the air strikes.

© 2011 AFP

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