Libyan rebels reject role for Gadhafi sons

By Christopher Torchia

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 4 2011 2:45 p.m. MDT

Libyan National Transitional Council's Foreign Minister Ali al-Essawi, talks during a press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, unseen, in Rome, Monday, April 4, 2011. Italy on Monday recognized the opposition Libyan National Transitional Council as the only legitimate voice in the north African nation, the Italian foreign minister said. Rome also dismissed a diplomatic push in Europe by Moammar Gadhafi's government to discuss an end to the fighting. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that any solution to the Libyan conflict involved the departure of Moammar Gadhafi and his family.

Andrew Medichini, Associated Press

ISTANBUL — A diplomatic push by Moammar Gadhafi's regime ran into trouble Monday as opponents at home and abroad rejected any solution to the Libyan conflict that would involve one of his sons taking power.

While a Gadhafi envoy lobbied diplomats in European capitals, Italy became the third nation to declare that the rebels' interim council in Libya is the only legitimate voice for the people of the North African nation.

The diplomatic whirlwind could signal a softening of his regime's hardline public stance against any compromise that would end the fighting and steer Libya toward a political resolution.

Any long-term settlement poses tough questions about the fate of Gadhafi's family and the new leader of a post-Gadhafi nation.

Some of Gadhafi's adversaries quickly rejected the idea that any of his powerful sons, some of whom command militias accused of attacks on civilians, might play a transitional leadership role that would undoubtedly protect the family's vast economic interests.

Gadhafi, who took power in a 1969 coup, has a legacy of brutality and involvement in terrorism but was able to prolong his rule and even emerge from pariah status over the past decade with the help of Libya's immense oil wealth. Potential rivals to the eccentric leader were sidelined during four decades of harsh rule based on personal and tribal loyalties that undermined the army and other national institutions.

In Rome, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini welcomed Ali al-Essawi, the foreign envoy of the Libyan National Transitional Council, which was hastily set up in the eastern, rebel-held city of Benghazi as the uprising against Gadhafi began in February.

"We have decided to recognize the council as the only political, legitimate interlocutor to represent Libya," Frattini told reporters. He said he will send an envoy to Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, in the coming days.

Frattini also insisted that Gadhafi and his family must go.

"Any solution for the future of Libya has a precondition: that Gadhafi's regime leaves ... that Gadhafi himself and the family leave the country," Frattini said.

Italy is the third country, after France and Qatar, to give diplomatic recognition to the rebel council, despite international concerns about the unity, origin and ultimate intentions of the opposition. Its leaders have said they are committed to democratic reform, but U.S. lawmakers have cautioned that the allies need to know more about them before providing them with any weapons to fight Gadhafi's forces.

Al-Essawi said one possible idea — replacing Gadhafi with one of his sons — was unacceptable.

In Benghazi, opposition spokeswoman Iman Bughaigis also said the rebels would not accept any solution that included Gadhafi or his sons.

"This war has shown everyone and the world that Gadhafi's sons are no different from him," Bughaigis said. "They are two sides of the same coin. Gadhafi has been waging a war on our people with the help of his sons' militias and mercenaries, so we see no difference between them. There is no way to negotiate with this regime."

In Washington, U.S. officials said they had no information about a plan involving Gadhafi transferring power to one of his sons.

"Ultimately it's not something that the U.S. needs to decide," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. He also indicated that the U.S. was not yet ready to recognize the Libyan opposition, though he said "we continue to advise them and communicate with them regularly."

The New York Times reported Monday that two of Gadhafi's sons are proposing a solution in which one of them, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, would take over from his father and steer the country toward a constitutional democracy. The newspaper cited a diplomat and a Libyan official who were briefed on the plan, and reported that it was unclear whether Gadhafi himself supported the proposal.

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