International powers meeting on Libya’s future called for the first time on Wednesday for Muammar Gaddafi to step aside, but Nato countries squabbled publicly over stepping up air strikes to help topple him.
In a victory for Britain and France, which are leading the air campaign and pushed for an unequivocal call for regime change, the “contact group” of some 16 European and Middle Eastern nations, plus the United Nations, the Arab League and the African Union, said Gaddafi must go.
“Gaddafi and his regime has lost all legitimacy and he must leave power allowing the Libyan people to determine their future,” a final statement obtained by Reuters said.
The wording was much tougher than at a previous conference two weeks ago. Participants also said they would work to set up a financial mechanism to help rebels, fighting to end Gaddafi’s 41-year rule, run the eastern region they control.
They also called for a political settlement, to be decided by the Libyan people, and an end to attacks against civilians.
While there was agreement on the principle of removing Gaddafi, there were divisions over how to make that happen.
Disagreements surfaced on British and French calls for greater participation in the Nato air campaign against Gaddafi’s heavy weapons and on arming the rebels.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underlined the humanitarian disaster caused by the war, when he told the meeting up to 3.6 million people, or more than half the population, could need assistance.
There is increasing frustration in Paris and London that air strikes have neither tipped the balance of the war in favour of the rebels nor ended devastating shelling of the besieged city of Misrata, a lone rebel bastion in western Libya.
Rebels attending the Doha meeting said they expected more support, saying Nato was using “minimum” power and needed to step up attacks on Gaddafi’s heavy weapons.
Meanwhile, Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim lashed out against the West’s “imperialist way of thinking”, accusing world powers of trying to impose political change on Libya.
Germany said it had expelled five Libyan diplomats for intimidating the country’s citizens living there.
The African Union said it was pursuing its peace mission despite rebel rejection of any plan that left Gaddafi in power. “It is urgent that the members of the international community coordinate their efforts to find a quick solution,” said the AU’s chief diplomat, Jean Ping.