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No breakthrough in Russian envoy's trip to Libya

A Russian envoy's trip to the Libyan capital Thursday yielded no major breakthroughs amid escalating international efforts to end the four-month-long crisis in Libya.

Both Mikhail Margelov, Russia's special envoy to Africa, and Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Ali Mahmudi said the major issue — the future of Moammar Kadafi — remained unresolved.

Kadafi "is not prepared to go," Margelov said he was told by Libyan officials, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.

Later, Mahmudi repeatedly made the same point — that Kadafi has no intention of leaving Libya — during an almost two-hour news conference with foreign journalists. He labeled attempts to force Kadafi's departure a "red line" that cannot be crossed.

"Moammar Kadafi is a symbol of this country, and we don't accept anything that may be done against him," the Libyan prime minister said.

The future role of Kadafi, 69, who has ruled Libya for almost 42 years, has been the central issue of contention since the Libyan uprising began in February.

Western-backed rebels have insisted that Kadafi and his family must leave Libya before proper peace talks can begin.

Margelov met with senior Libyan ministers but not with Kadafi, Russian media reported. Moscow has said Kadafi must go, but it has also criticized NATO airstrikes. The envoy's visit to Tripoli follows a meeting last week with rebel leaders in Benghazi.

The Libyan government has said Kadafi is willing to cede all executive power to a government chosen by the Libyan people under a new constitution. Kadafi's son, Seif Islam, told an Italian newspaper this week that internationally supervised elections could be held in three months as part of a transition toward democracy.

However, under the government plan, Kadafi or his relatives could not be banned from seeking office, said Musa Ibrahim, chief government spokesman.

Rebels say it is preposterous to believe that Libya's longtime dictator would ever really cede power. The opposition Transitional National Council, based in Benghazi, insists that Kadafi's exit — or his arrest on charges of human rights abuses — is necessary to achieve reconciliation and establish a democratic government.

"Kadafi and his family must leave the country," Guma el-Gamaty, a Britain-based spokesman for the rebel council, said in a telephone interview. "If he stays in the country somewhere, he will always wield power through a shadow network."

The rebel official called the suggestion by Kadafi's son for elections a stalling tactic. "They know the end is near, and they're trying to buy time," he said.

El-Gamaty denied a report by the Russian envoy that rebel representatives have had "direct contacts" with Libyan government officials.

Russia is one of a number of nations that have attempted to broker peace in Libya, where almost four months of fighting have left thousands dead and divided the country. Rebels, backed by Western air power, control much of eastern Libya; Kadafi still controls the capital and much of the west.

The Libyan government has backed an African-crafted peace plan that would institute a cease-fire and allow Kadafi to remain in the country. The rebels have rejected the plan.

Meanwhile, China and Russia issued a joint statement calling for the "strict observance" of the United Nations Security Council resolutions that provided the legal basis for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led bombing campaign in Libya. NATO says it is determined to continue its current strategy despite the faltering contributions of some member nations and internal differences.

The NATO bombing runs continued Thursday over Tripoli, where authorities took journalists to a hotel that officials said was destroyed in a NATO strike. The hotel was unoccupied at the time and no one was injured, the manager said.

Among those viewing the twisted hotel wreckage near the Mediterranean seafront was the Russian envoy, Margelov, who arrived with a coterie of bodyguards armed with AK-47 assault rifles. He took a quick look at the rubble and marched back to his silver BMW sedan.

"Because there were no foreign reporters there, the hotel was bombed," Mahmudi, the Libyan prime minister, later told foreign journalists, who are gathered in a single hotel in Tripoli.

Authorities here say a NATO attack Wednesday struck a bus in the town of Kiklah, southwest of the capital, killing 12 civilians. There was no immediate word from NATO on the allegation.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

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