China meets Libya rebels in latest blow to Gaddafi

China made its first confirmed contact with Libyan rebels in the latest diplomatic setback for Muammar Gaddafi, and France said on Friday it was working with those close to the veteran ruler to convince him to leave power.The meeting in Qatar between a Chinese diplomat and the leader of the rebel National Transitional Council follows a spate of defections by high profile figures this week including top oil official and former prime minister Shukri Ghanem.

Libyan rebels and NATO have made Gaddafi’s departure a condition for agreeing a ceasefire in a conflict that has killed thousands, but he emphatically told visiting South African President Jacob Zuma this week he would not leave Libya.

A NATO-led military alliance extended its mission to protect civilians in Libya for a further 90 days this week, and France said it was stepping up military pressure as well as working with those close to Gaddafi to try to convince him to quit.

“He is more and more isolated,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe Juppe told Europe 1 radio. “There have been more defections around him and we have received messages from his close entourage which has understood that he must leave power.”

“We will increase the military pressure as we have been doing for several days…but at the same time we are talking with everyone who can convince him to leave power,” he said, speaking by telephone during a visit to Israel.

In Beijing, a terse Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said Beijing‘s ambassador to Qatar, Zhang Zhiliang, had met and “exchanged views on developments in Libya” with Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the chairman of the Council, which is trying to offer itself as a credible temporary alterative to embattled Gaddafi.

The ministry gave no details of the talks but the meeting itself was an indication that Beijing wants to keep open lines of communication with the rebel forces that could supplant Gaddafi, even as it urges a political solution.

China‘s stance on the Libya issue is clear — we hope for a political solution to the Libyan crisis, and believe that Libya‘s future should be determined by its people,” it said.

China was among the emerging powers that abstained in March when the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize NATO-led air strikes. But China also quickly condemned the subsequent expansion of those strikes, and since then has repeatedly urged a ceasefire and a political compromise.

China was never especially close to Gaddafi, but it generally tries to avoid taking firm sides in other countries’ domestic conflicts, including in the Middle East, where it has been buying growing quantities of oil.


In Tunisia, a U.N. official said the bodies of 150 African refugees fleeing turmoil in Libya had been recovered off the Tunisian coast after the vessels carrying them illegally to Europe got into difficulty.

Tunisian authorities rescued 570 people, but many others went into the water when a stampede to get off the small fishing boats — combined with the effect of rough seas — capsized some of the vessels, a Tunisian official said. In all about 250 people were reported on Thursday as missing from the vessels.

With the United Nations warning that his government was running out of food, the Libyan capital Tripoli this week saw the first big protest in months against Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.

Now in its fourth month, the Libyan conflict is deadlocked, with rebels unable to break out of their strongholds and advance toward Tripoli, where Gaddafi appears to be entrenched.

Rebels control the east of Libya around Benghazi, where the rebel Council is based, and a mountain range stretching from the town of Zintan, 150 km (95 miles) south of Tripoli, toward the western border with Tunisia.

Gaddafi says the rebels are armed criminals and al Qaeda militants, and has called the NATO intervention an act of colonial aggression designed to grab Libya‘s plentiful oil.

Western governments say they believe they are wearing down Gaddafi’s ability to control Libya through a combination of diplomatic pressure and military action, although the U.S. role in the conflict in particular has been controversial at home.

The Pentagon on Thursday said approval of a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives directing President Barack Obama to withdraw from NATO operations against Libya would send an “unhelpful message of disunity” to allies and foes alike.


The House of Representatives prepared to vote on differing approaches to U.S. involvement in Libya, one directing President Barack Obama to pull U.S. forces out of NATO operations and a second that demands more information about U.S. strategy.

The resolutions are a response from U.S. lawmakers in both main parties who are unhappy the United States is now in a third conflict after Iraq and Afghanistan.

Guma El-Gamaty, a rebel official based in Britain, said rebel fighters fought a skirmish overnight with Gaddafi loyalists near rebel-held Ajdbaiyah town in eastern Libya.

Explosions were heard in central Tripoli on Thursday evening, following on from similar blasts in the early hours, when aircraft could be heard flying overhead.

Libyan state television reported air strikes in the Al Jufrah district of central Libya on Thursday night.

Ghanem, the top official who oversaw Libya‘s oil and gas sector, was the second most senior official to quit and rebels said the defection showed that the end is nearing for Gaddafi almost four months into a rebellion against him.

But the Libyan government said it would send a representative to the next meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna on June 8.


In Misrata, rebels have driven forces loyal to Gaddafi out of the city center and pushed westwards toward the neighboring town of Zlitan, where they were exchanging artillery fire.

Residents in Zlitan say pro-Gaddafi forces have been moving into the town and mounting a crackdown to prevent Gaddafi opponents from rising up and joining the rebels.

In the Western Mountains, rebel spokesman Abdulrahman told Reuters that 20 to 30 Grad rockets exploded in and around Zintan on Thursday evening, fired by Gaddafi troops positioned east of the town.

He also reported battles near Arrayayna, northeast of Zintan, which he said had been going on since the rebels ambushed retreating Gaddafi forces there on Wednesday.

Rebel spokesman Khalefa Ali said a Libyan army major whose unit is deployed in Ghadamis near the Algerian border has defected and joined rebel ranks in Nalut, some 330 km north. The major, who asked not to be named, arrived there on Thursday.


TRIPOLI (Reuters) – By Peter Graff(Additional reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Zohra Bensemra in Misrata, Edmund Blair and Isabel Coles in Cairo, Sherine El Madany in Benghazi, and Joseph Nasr in Rabat; writing by Christian Lowe, Jan Harvey and William Maclean; editing by Maria Golovnina)


About Gay Today

Editor of Gay Today