NATO Extends Its Libya Mission

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 12:45 pm (UTC-5)
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NATO says it is extending its military mission in Libya for 90 days, as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi refuses to step down despite a popular uprising,

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made the announcement Wednesday. He said the move is meant to send a clear message to the Gadhafi government that the pressure to oust him will continue.

During a news conference in Brussels, Rasmussen said the question is not if Mr. Gadhafi will leave, but when. He added that the Libyan leader's departure could take some time — or it could happen “tomorrow.”

The current NATO mission, comprising airstrikes and enforcement of a no-fly zone, would have ended in late June. The extension carries it to September.

Meanwhile, another high-ranking Libyan official has announced that he has parted ways with the government. Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem said in Rome Wednesday that he has left his country and his job but had not yet decided if he would join the anti-Gadhafi rebels.

Last month, Libyan officials denied reports that Ghanem had defected in Tunisia, saying instead that he was abroad on business. His announcement in Rome comes two days after eight Libyan army officers held a news conference there to say that they were among about 120 soldiers who had left Libya's government forces.

U.S. State Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to the United Arab Emirates next week for a meeting of the 22-nation Libyan Contact Group. Earlier this month, the group agreed to set up a fund to help provide Libyan rebels with food, medicine and military supplies in the areas under their control.

South African President Jacob Zuma, in his capacity as head of the African Union, met with Mr. Gadhafi Monday and said later that Mr. Gadhafi is not ready to leave. Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim denied reports that Mr. Zuma discussed an exit strategy with the Libyan leader.