LONDON — International leaders struggled to figure out an endgame Tuesday for Moammar Gadhafi's tottering regime, as British Prime Minister David Cameron accused the Libyan leader of shooting and starving his opponents into submission.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Arab League, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and up to 40 foreign ministers attended the talks, seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Gadhafi to quit.
In his opening speech, Cameron said the conference at London's Lancaster House would sketch out how the world could help Libya on a path to a post-Gadhafi rule.
"The reason for being here is because the Libyan people cannot reach that future on their own," Cameron said. "We are all here in one united purpose, that is to help the Libyan people in their hour of need."
Cameron said Britain had received reports that Gadhafi was pounding Misrata, the main rebel holdout in the west, with attacks from land and sea, and relentlessly targeting civilians.
"Gadhafi is using snipers to shoot them down and let them bleed to death in the street. He has cut off food, water and electricity to starve them into submission," Cameron said.
Clinton said the international community must support calls for democracy sweeping Libya and its neighbors, but warned that change would not be easily won.
"Under different governments, under different circumstances, people are expressing the same basic aspirations: A voice in their government, an end to corruption, freedom from violence and fear, the chance to live in dignity and to make the most of their God-given talents," Clinton said. "These goals are not easily achieved. But they are, without question, worth working for together."
Outside the summit, about 70 protesters held pro-Gadhafi placards, sounded bullhorns and led chants of "Hands off Libya!" One placard read: "We can resolve our problems without you."
Representatives of one anti-Gadhafi group, the Interim National Council, called meetings earlier Tuesday with Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague "very constructive." It was not attending the main conference.
Mahmoud Shammam, a council spokesman, outlined the group's vision for a post-Gadhafi Libya.
"The aspirations of the Libyan people are to be free, to live under a constitutional democratic system," Shammam told a press conference. "(We have) had enough of tyranny."
But he suggested the Libyans were prepared to fight their own battle. Though the international community had a responsibility to intervene and prevent "mass genocide," what comes next is up to the Libyan people, he said.
"We are not asking for any non-Libyan to come and change the regime," he told reporters.
But even nations that backed the internationally enforced no-fly zone to protect civilians in Libya are far from unanimous on what to do next.
Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said several nations are behind a proposal to swiftly end the conflict, setting out plans for a cease-fire, exile for Gadhafi and a framework for talks on Libya's future between tribal leaders and opposition figures.
Turkey, which has offered to mediate a permanent cease-fire, said the London talks should gauge international support for scenarios under which Gadhafi could go into exile.
But British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the meeting was "not going to choose Col. Gadhafi's retirement home."
"Of course where he goes, if he goes, is up to him and the people of Libya to determine," he said.
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