PARIS — World leaders said Monday the end is near for Moammar Gadhafi’s regime and began planning for Libya’s future without the man who has held power for 42 years.
They welcomed the rebels’ dramatic advances in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after six months of fighting, and urged Gadhafi to surrender and avoid a bloodbath. Hundreds of Libyans living abroad in the Middle East and Europe celebrated in the streets, taking over embassies, burning images of the Libyan strongman and hoisting rebel flags.
Though Gadhafi’s whereabouts were not known, leaders were setting the stage for new leadership there.
Britain said its frozen Libyan assets would soon be released to help the country’s rebels establish order; France announced plans for an international meeting next week; and Italy sent a team to the rebels’ base of Benghazi to help plan reconstruction and the restoration of oil and natural gas production.
U.S. President Barack Obama was due to discuss Gadhafi’s fall in a phone call with British Prime Minister David Cameron later on Monday, the U.K. leader’s office said. Cameron was also holding talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the leaders of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
“His regime is falling apart and in full retreat. Gadhafi must stop fighting, without conditions,” Cameron said in London. He vowed that Britain and others would now assist Libya’s “effective transition to a free, democratic and inclusive” nation.
However, Cameron’s office cautioned that in the discussions leaders were mindful of the fact that the opposition forces had not yet completed Gadhafi’s ouster.
“Let’s not forget, we have not yet found Gadhafi and they are not yet in control of all parts of Tripoli,” said a spokeswoman for Cameron’s office, on condition of anonymity in line with policy.
The spokeswoman said that in a call with United Nations Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, Cameron had discussed plans for a new U.N. resolution on Libya. “That’s at an early stage,” she said.
The U.N. leader said he will hold meetings on Libya later this week with major organizations, including the Arab League, African Union and European Union. He urged Gadhafi’s forces to stop fighting immediately and make way for a “smooth transition” that ensures a free and democratic future for the country.
Cameron said British diplomats would move from Benghazi in the east to Tripoli as soon as it was safe to do so. Crucially, he announced that Britain, which has frozen about 12 billion pounds ($20 billion) of Libyan assets, will soon release the funds.
Germany announced similar plans once the Gadhafi regime is gone. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that about C7 billion ($10.1 billion) is frozen in Germany and that the money could be used to help rebuild Libya. “The Libyan people are entitled to this money,” he said.
France said the “contact group” of international powers involved in stabilizing Libya would meet next week in Paris. French President Nicolas Sarkozy invited Libya’s opposition leader to come to Paris for the talks, his office said.
France and Britain, backed by the United States, have spearheaded the NATO-led air campaign that began under a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the protection of civilians.
In Brussels, the European Union vowed in a statement to “keep supporting the country in its democratic transition and economic reconstruction, based on social justice, inclusiveness and territorial integrity.” The EU has given C150 million ($215 million) in humanitarian aid to Libya during the civil war, and in May, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton extended de-facto recognition to the rebels’ council by opening a diplomatic office in Benghazi.
Hundreds of people celebrated the advance of rebel troops into Tripoli early Monday by staging a rally in front of the Libyan embassy in Cairo. In the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria, residents pulled down the green Libyan flag from a consulate building and replaced it with the rebel tricolour flag. Libyan expatriates also flocked to embassies in Turkey, Greece, Bosnia and Malta.
Jordan, a strong Arab ally of the U.S. and one of the first countries to recognize the rebels’ council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, said any transition should lay the foundations for a “new democratic regime.” Jordan’s top diplomat Nasser Judeh said his country “hopes for a swift and peaceful transition of power,” according to the official Petra news agency.
But leaders also cautioned against the risk of escalating violence as a desperate Gadhafi might try to cling to power. Instead, they said, Gadhafi should face justice and turn himself in to the International Criminal Court.
The court has indicted Gadhafi on charges of crime against humanity, along with one of his sons, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and Libya’s intelligence chief. Libya’s opposition leader said Tuesday rebels captured another of Moammar Gadhafi’s sons — raising to three the number of the Libyan leader’s children, including Seif Gadhafi, in custody.
“There’s a great risk that the violence will escalate,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told Swedish news agency TT. “It’s a very dangerous situation with various militia groups of young, angry men on the loose and armed with weapons. It would be best if the regime simply surrenders and we get a cease-fire and rid of the weapons.”
South Africa — which has criticized the NATO bombing and led failed African Union efforts to mediate between the rebels and Gadhafi — insisted it had sent no planes to Libya to evacuate Gadhafi. It said it had received no request from him for asylum, and was involved in no efforts to extricate him.
“I’m quite amazed that there’s even an insinuation that we are facilitating evacuation of anyone,” said Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. She said that “for sure, he will not ask to come here” and noted that South Africa is an International Criminal Court member — suggesting that South Africa would have to arrest Gadhafi if he arrived there.
The government of Malta, the tiny Mediterranean island close to North Africa, has also denied reports that Gadhafi is headed there.