Libyan government: Gaddafi cannot be moved aside

In contrast to earlier offer of elections, regime says "Gaddafi is Libya's historical symbol and is above all political actions."

Gaddafi on state TV 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Libyan TV)
Gaddafi on state TV 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Libyan TV)
TRIPOLI - Muammar Gaddafi is the historical choice of the Libyan people and cannot be moved aside, his government said on Sunday, stepping back from earlier statements offering an election on his future role.
"Muammar Gaddafi is Libya's historical symbol, and he is above all political actions, above all political and tactical games," government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said in a statement issued late on Sunday.
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"In this current stage and in the future, Gaddafi is the historical choice which we cannot drop."
"As for the current and future Libya, it is up to the people and the leadership to decide it, and it is not up to the armed groups, nor up to NATO to decide it," the statement said.
Gaddafi, who has run his oil-producing country since coming to power in a military coup in 1969, is under pressure to relinquish power from rebels who rose up against his rule and from a NATO bombing campaign.
But cracks are emerging within the Western alliance too, with some NATO member states anxious about civilian casualties, the cost of the campaign and the fact Gaddafi has not been dislodged after more than three months of air strikes.
Libya's rebel leadership in its eastern stronghold of Benghazi has said it is in indirect contact with Gaddafi's government, raising the possibility of a political settlement to the conflict, which has killed thousands of people.
But the government spokesman said in the statement that talk of a deal was premature.
"It is not possible for a new stage to begin before NATO stops its aggression against Libya. As for the armed groups, they have no force on the ground, nor popular representation," the statement said.
Ibrahim said he issued the statement to clarify remarks he made earlier on Sunday. At the time, he had told reporters in Tripoli the government was proposing a period of national dialogue and an election overseen by international observers.
"If the Libyan people decide Gaddafi should leave he will leave. If the people decide he should stay he will stay," Ibrahim said earlier in the day.
The idea of holding an election was first raised earlier this month by one of Gaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam.
The proposal lost momentum when Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi appeared to dismiss it. At the time, it was also rejected by anti-Gaddafi rebels in the east of Libya, and by Washington.
Many analysts say Gaddafi and his family have no intention of relinquishing power. Instead, they say, the Libyan leader is holding out the possibility of a deal to try to widen cracks that have been emerging in the alliance ranged against him.
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