THE Libyan government says it is ready to negotiate reforms, but has dashed Western hopes Muammar Gaddafi will step down, describing the dictator as a unifying figure.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, dismissed former foreign minister Moussa Koussa, who defected to the West last week, as just a “sick and old” man who had succumbed to the psychological pressures of war.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said in Tripoli yesterday that everything except the departure of Gaddafi was negotiable in ending the uprising. “What kind of political system is implemented in the country? This is negotiable, we can talk about it,” he said. “We can have anything, elections, referendums.”
But Gaddafi’s future was sacrosanct, he stressed, only hours after opposition rebels rejected a reported peace deal that could see the embattled leader’s son take charge of the north African nation. Gaddafi was “the safety valve” for the unity of the country’s tribes and people, Mr Ibrahim said. “We think he is very important to lead any transition to a democratic and transparent model.”
A defiant Gaddafi greeted supporters yesterday in his first public appearance since March 22, at his residence in Tripoli. Saif briefly showed up at a Tripoli hotel to record an interview with the BBC in which he dismissed Mr Koussa, once a pillar of the regime. Saif, who had not been seen in public since coalition airstrikes began on March 19, said Mr Koussa had been allowed to leave Libya for medical treatment.
“Regarding Moussa Koussa, he said ‘I’m on a travel ban list and I’m sick and I have to go every three months to Cromwell hospital in London, if I can get permission. I want to go there’, so . . . we allow him to go to Djerba in Tunisia, so there’s nothing against that,” Saif said.
He added: “We have been bombed for two weeks, imagine the psychological pressure and you are sick and old, so you resign. It’s a war.” He dismissed the idea that Mr Koussa might have secrets to share. “Like what? The British and Americans know about Lockerbie, there’s no secrets anymore.” He scoffed at suggestions his father might stand down.
The US government lifted sanctions against Mr Koussa after he defected to Britain, a move designed to encourage more top figures to flee.
The move came as a Gaddafi envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Abdelati Laabidi, held talks in Turkey and Malta on a possible solution to the conflict in Libya. Italy, Libya’s former colonial master, dismissed the diplomatic overtures as not credible.
Rebel forces were pushed back by a barrage of artillery shells yesterday near the eastern oil town of Brega, the frontline in a war in which neither side has been able to make any significant advances for days.