France urges NATO to intensify bombing of Gadhafi's compound
U.S. defense spokesman says Libyan leader believed to be in the country; rebels say only 'dozens of meters away' from compound.
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet on Tuesday pushed NATO to step up its bombardments of Moamer Gadhafi's compound to try to hasten the Libyan leader's exit. Meanwhile, rebel commanders said they were approaching the compound and were only 'dozens of meters' away.'
Speaking on France Inter public radio, Longuet said that NATO bombardments Monday night had not yet breached the defenses of Gadhafi's compound, "contrary to what France is asking."
Breaching the perimeter was symbolically important, because it showed "there is no sanctuary," he said, adding: "We want to destroy the idea of a sanctuary."
Gadhafi's whereabouts are unknown but there is some suspicion he is still in Tripoli. A US defense spokesman said Monday the United States believed he was still in Libya.
Early Tuesday, his son Saif al-Islam, who had been reported to be in the hands of the rebels, reemerged at his father's Bab al-Azizya compound,
surrounded by regime supporters.
On Monday night French President Nicolas Sarkozy discussed the situation with British Prime Minister David Cameron by telephone. The two leaders agreed to "continue their efforts in support of the legitimate Libyan authorities as long as Colonel Gadhafi refuses to lay down arms," Sarkozy's office said in a statement.
Sarkozy and Cameron also agreed to begin "without delay" talks with "the legitimate Libyan authorities and their international partners" on holding an expanded meeting of the Libya Contact Group in Paris next week.
Sarkozy also spoke to UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon. The two agreed that the United Nations "would have an important role to play in accompanying the transition phase" in Libya, if the "legitimate" Libyan authorities - doublespeak for the Transitional National Council - sought UN assistance.
As the battle for Tripoli threatens to drag on, French officials were backpedalling after rushing to declare victory on Monday. Longuet declared in a radio interview Monday that Gaddafi's regime had "fallen."
On Tuesday, he was forced to admit the regime was "isolated, encircled, cornered" but "not yet fallen." Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, in an interview with Europe 1 radio, also conceded the rebels' victory was "not yet complete." In a blog post on Monday, Juppe had hailed the "end of a dictatorship."
France sees parallels between the situation in Tripoli and the conflict in Ivory Coast, where French and United Nations peacekeeping forces assisted in the capture of self-styled leader Laurent Gbagbo in April.
Gbagbo had refused calls to step down, months after losing a presidential election to his rival Alassane Ouattara. He held out at his Abidjan compound for days as pro-Ouattara forces battled his remaining loyalists.
Ouattara's forces were only able to arrest Gbagbo after French and UN helicopters pounded the compound's defences with airstrikes and French armored vehicles surrounded the building.
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