Gaddafi can stay if he resigns, says France

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France's Foreign Minister suggested yesterday that a possible way out of Libya's civil war would be to allow Muammar Gaddafi to stay in the country if he relinquishes power.

Colonel Gaddafi insists he will neither step down nor flee the country he has led for four decades. With the Nato-led air campaign against his forces entering its fifth month and the fighting in a stalemate, the international community is seeking exit strategies.

President Nicolas Sarkozy held a meeting in Paris yesterday with three rebel leaders from the western port city of Misrata who are seeking aid and arms to move toward Tripoli. Mr Sarkozy announced no specific measures in response.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said France wants to keep "a very close link" with the rebels "to see how we can help".

Asked whether Colonel Gaddafi could stay in Libya under house arrest, for example, Mr Juppé said on LCI television: "One of the hypotheses that is envisaged is that he stays in Libya, on one condition... that he clearly steps aside from Libya's political life."

The rebels initially insisted that Colonel Gaddafi leave the country, and one of those who met Mr Sarkozy maintained that view – while others are not ruling out the possibility that he could stay if he gives up power.

"I don't think there is a place for him [in Libya]. He is a criminal now," Souleiman Fortia, the National Transitional Council's Misrata representative, told reporters.