Libya rebels win aid as West sees Gaddafi exit

By Humeyra Pamuk and Peter Graff

ABU DHABI/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s cash-starved rebels on Thursday won more than $1.1 billion of aid at a conference of Western and Arab powers that focused on the end-game for Muammar Gaddafi and the country’s civil war.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped up pressure on the Libyan leader saying she was aware of talks between people close to Gaddafi that had raised the “potential” for a transition of power.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd told the conference Gaddafi’s end “may come sooner than many of you in this room may think.”

NATO warplanes relentlessly bombed Tripoli as the rebels said they hoped to restart oil production, stopping short of giving a date.

At the United Nations, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said its investigators had found evidence linking Gaddafi to a policy of raping opponents.

A possible war crimes prosecution could be an incentive for Gaddafi to cling to power, but Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade offered to help ease his former African Union ally’s exit from power and appealed to him to step down.

“It is in your own interest and the interest of all the Libyan people that you leave power in Libya and never dream of coming back to power,” Wade said during a visit to the rebel-held east Libyan city of Benghazi.

“I can be one of those who help you pull out of political life and the sooner you leave the better,” Wade said.

Clinton declined to give details of the discussions over Gaddafi’s future.

“There have been numerous and continuing discussions by people close to Gaddafi and we are aware that those discussions include among other matters the potential for a transition,” she told a news conference in Abu Dhabi.

A bipartisan group in Congress urged President Barack Obama to use frozen Libyan government assets to pay for humanitarian aid for Libyan people caught up in the civil war.

NATO air strikes resumed in Tripoli on Wednesday night after a lull following the heaviest day of bombings since March, with new blasts shaking the city on Thursday morning and afternoon.

Rebel Oil and Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni said the Benghazi-based leadership hoped to restart production of up to 100,000 barrels a day “soon,” without specifying a timeframe, and called for more aid, immediately.

“It is a failure if there is no clear financial commitment to it,” he told reporters. “Our people are dying … So my message to our friends is that I hope they walk the walk.”

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Reuters Italy would give the rebels up to 400 million euros ($586.1 million) of cash and fuel aid backed by frozen Libyan assets. Kuwait said it would immediately transfer $180 million to the rebels.

France pledged 290 million euros to the rebels in “preferential loans” and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey had set up a $100 fund.

That pledge of assistance came at a meeting of the so-called Libya contact group, including the United States, France and Britain, as well as Arab allies Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan, which is pressing the rebels to give a detailed plan on how they would run the country if Gaddafi stood down or was toppled.

“The international community is beginning to talk about what could constitute end-game to this,” one senior U.S. official told reporters aboard U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s plane which landed in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night.

That official listed scenarios including a ceasefire, which Tripoli has demanded include NATO and leave Gadaffi’s fate open.

The rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) and its Western allies have rejected Libyan government ceasefire offers that do not include Gaddafi stepping down first.


U.S. officials on Wednesday announced delivery of the TNC’s first U.S. oil sale, which they hope will get money flowing.

U.S. oil refiner Tesoro said in May it had brought 1.2 million barrels, which U.S. officials said was due to arrive in Hawaii on Wednesday on a tanker chartered by Swiss trader Vitol.

One of the highest-ranking defectors, ex-Foreign Minister Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, said the rebels needed $3 billion to cover salaries and food costs for the next four months. Libyan assets in Italy could contribute to that sum, he said.

NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on Wednesday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that European countries flying the bulk of the air strikes against Libya are stretched thin and will find the NATO-led mission more painful unless other allies do more.

Germany, which has stayed out of the NATO air strikes, would consider sending troops to Libya as part of a U.N. military force, Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in Brussels.

The alliance says the bombing aims to protect civilians from the Libyan military, which crushed popular protests in February.

The Libyan leader says the rebels are Islamist militants and NATO attempting to grab Libya’s oil.

At the United Nations, the ICC prosecutor said its investigators have evidence linking Gaddafi to a policy of raping opponents and may bring separate charges on the issue.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested arrest warrants on May 16 against Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the country’s spy chief on charges of crimes against humanity committed during attempts to crush the country’s rebellion.

At a U.N. news conference on Wednesday, he said the question until recently had been whether Gaddafi himself ordered the rapes “or is it something that happened in the barracks?”

“But now we are getting some information that Gaddafi himself decided to authorize the rapes, and this is new.”

At the United Nations human rights body, Libya’s envoy rejected a separate U.N. report accusing its forces of crimes.


Rebels in the besieged western city of Misrata said thousands of pro-Gaddafi forces launched a major advance on the city and killed at least 12 people with a barrage of shell fire late on Wednesday, though NATO disputed that account.

“There were some small groups of pro-Gaddafi forces who were trying to advance toward the center of Misrata … but I think this is an embellishment,” a NATO official said.

On Thursday, a separate rebel spokesman, Suleiman, said by phone the city had been bombarded from east, south, and west.

Gaddafi troops and the rebels have been deadlocked for weeks between the eastern towns of Ajdabiyah and the Gaddafi-held oil town of Brega. Rebels also control the western city of Misrata and the range of western mountains near the border with Tunisia.