US President Barack Obama said it was inevitable Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi would have to leave power and only then could a democratic transition in the North African state proceed.
Obama was speaking as part of a major address in Washington about the Middle East, which has seen a series of uprisings this year including ones that have toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt as well as a three-month-old revolt in Libya.
“Time is working against Gaddafi. He does not have control over his country. The opposition has organised a legitimate and credible Interim Council,” Obama said.
“When Gaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed, Reuters reports.
“Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed. The message would have been clear: keep power by killing as many people as it takes,” he said.
His comments echoed those of NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who said on Thursday military and political pressure were weakening Gaddafi’s hold on power and would eventually topple him.
NATO allies including the United States, Britain and France, acting under a U.N. mandate, are conducting air strikes on the oil producer since Gaddafi used force to put down a revolt inspired by uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.
Rebels control eastern Libya and pockets in the West, but the conflict has reached stalemate in military terms, with rebel attempts to advance on Tripoli, Gaddafi’s stronghold, stalled.
That has left Western governments, under pressure from sceptical publics to deliver a decisive outcome, counting on Gaddafi’s administration collapsing from within.
“We have significantly degraded Gaddafi’s war machine. And now we see results, the opposition has gained ground,” Rasmussen told a news conference in the Slovak capital, Bratislava.
“I am confident that combination of strong military pressure and increased political pressure and support for the opposition will eventually lead to the collapse of the regime,” he said.
Libya’s government denied persistent rumours that Gaddafi’s wife, daughter and top oil official had left the country.
Libyan officials have produced no evidence of the whereabouts of the three, raising questions about Gaddafi’s ability to hold together his entourage in the face of a widespread rebellion and NATO bombing.
Earlier, a Tunisian security source and a Libyan opposition source with links to the ruling circle said Gaddafi’s wife Safia and daughter Aisha were staying on the Tunisian island of Djerba, near the border with Libya.
Libyan rebel officials, as well as official sources in Tunisia, have also told Reuters that Shokri Ghanem, a former prime minister who runs Libya’s oil industry, had left Libya via Tunisia, though it was unclear where he had gone.
Khaled Kaim, Libya’s deputy foreign minister and one of the main government spokesmen, told Reuters in Tripoli: “Shokri Ghanem is in his position, at work. If he’s out of the country, he’ll be coming back.
“As for the family of the leader, they’re still here in Libya. Where else would they be?”
Rasmussen said he had no information that Gaddafi’s wife, daughter and oil chief had fled.
Western powers are likely to stress their determination to keep the pressure up on Gaddafi when heads of state from the Group of Eight industrialised nations meet on May 27-28 in the French seaside resort of Deauville.