Clinton: Gadhafi’s Days Are Numbered

Posted July 13th, 2011 at 8:50 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi that his days in power “are numbered” and that the international community will soon increase the pressure on him to leave.

Her comments came after rebel fighters Wednesday retook a strategic village they had lost to forces loyal to Mr. Gadhafi earlier in the day, boosting their plans for a march on the capital, Tripoli, his stronghold.

The retaking of Al-Qawalish, about 100 kilometers south of Tripoli, occurred after bitter clashes that killed at least two opposition fighters and wounded 15 others. Rebel forces want to use Al-Qawalish as a staging post to take the nearby town of Garyan, which controls access to the main highway heading north to Tripoli.

Clinton, who spoke after wide-ranging U.S.-Russia policy talks in Washington, said the two powers agree Mr. Gadhafi's hold on power would not last long. She and U.S. President Barack Obama told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the United States supports Moscow's efforts to mediate a political solution in Libya as long as Mr. Gadhafi steps aside.

Lavrov said a political process must start between the Tripoli government and rebel leaders as soon as possible. He called for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement, saying there is no other way to solve the issue.

Also Wednesday, rebels in western Libya faced criticism from a U.S.-based rights group that accused them of damaging property, looting hospitals and homes and assaulting Gadhafi loyalists in opposition-held towns.

Human Rights Watch called on the rebels to protect civilians and hold their fighters accountable for the alleged abuses. It said a rebel commander confirmed that abuses had taken place and that some people were punished for the incidents.

The rights group said it also has documented “repeated” attacks by Libyan government forces on civilians in some western areas in the past two months.

Meanwhile, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso offered to help the Libyan opposition establish democratic institutions if the rebels defeat pro-government forces.

Barroso made the offer to a Libyan rebel delegation led by Mahmoud Jibril during talks Wednesday in Brussels. The European Commission president said the EU is ready to assist the rebels in organizing elections, creating an effective judiciary and organizing civil society and a free media.

Barroso also praised Jibril's visit as a sign of growing authority and international credibility of the rebels' political body, the Transitional National Council. Earlier, Jibril won a diplomatic boost from the foreign ministers of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, who said they recognize the rebels as the “legitimate representatives” of the Libyan people.

Jibril also met with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said the alliance will continue bombing Mr. Gadhafi's forces as long as they keep threatening Libyan civilians.

NATO forces have been carrying out airstrikes on Mr. Gadhafi's security forces since March.

Jibril said Wednesday the rebels have had no negotiations with the government of Mr. Gadhafi, whom they want to see leave power before they end their revolt. He also said the rebels have not seen any coherent or comprehensive political initiative to resolve the crisis.