Up to Libyans to decide on ousting Kadhafi: US

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US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday that Libya would be "better off" without Moamer Kadhafi in charge but it was up to the country's people to decide.

In an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Gates reiterated the US government's view that Western military intervention against the Libyan regime did not have an explicit goal of ousting Kadhafi from power.

"Well, I think it's pretty clear to everybody that Libya would be better off without Kadhafi," said Gates, who was in Saint Petersburg in a two-day tour of Russia.

"But that is a matter for the Libyans themselves to decide. And I think, given the opportunity and the absence of repression, they may well do that.

"But I think it is a mistake for us to set that as a goal of our military operation," he said, according to a transcript of the interview.

The United States and France have denied coalition forces would try to kill Kadhafi, whose whereabouts were unknown Monday, as did the head of Britain's armed forces after Foreign Secretary William Hague had refused to rule it out.

Gates had said on Sunday that it would "unwise" to target Kadhafi and suggested it could undermine the delicate coalition supporting the military intervention.

Echoing his comments to reporters on Sunday, the US defence chief said he expected other countries to take the lead in military operations within a few days.

"So, while we have had a major role in the first two or three days, I expect us very soon to recede back into a supporting role with other nations carrying a significant proportion of the burden in ... enforcing the no-fly zone," he added.

© 2011 AFP

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