Libya gains $1.1b aid pledges

 

Libya's cash-starved rebels today won more than $1.1 billion of aid at a conference of Western and Arab powers that focused on the end-game for Muammar Gadafy and the country's civil war.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton stepped up pressure on the Libyan leader saying she was aware of talks between people close to Col Gadafy that had raised the "potential" for a transition of power.

Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd told the conference Col Gadafy's end "may come sooner than many of you in this room may think".

Nato warplanes relentlessly bombed Tripoli as the rebels said they hoped to restart oil production, stopping short of giving a date.

At the United Nations, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said its investigators had found evidence linking Col Gadafy to a policy of raping opponents.

A possible war crimes prosecution could be an incentive for Col Gadafy to cling to power, but Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade offered to help ease his former African Union ally's exit from power and appealed to him to step down.

"It is in your own interest and the interest of all the Libyan people that you leave power in Libya and never dream of coming back to power," Mr Wade said during a visit to the rebel-held east Libyan city of Benghazi.

"I can be one of those who help you pull out of political life and the sooner you leave the better," Mr Wade said.

Ms Clinton declined to give details of the discussions over Col Gadafy's future.

"There have been numerous and continuing discussions by people close to [Col] Gadafy and we are aware that those discussions include among other matters the potential for a transition," she told a news conference in Abu Dhabi.

A bipartisan group in the US Congress urged president Barack Obama to use frozen Libyan government assets to pay for humanitarian aid for Libyan people caught up in the civil war.

Nato air strikes resumed in Tripoli last night after a lull following the heaviest day of bombings since March, with new blasts shaking the city this morning and afternoon.

Rebel oil and finance minister Ali Tarhouni said the Benghazi-based leadership hoped to restart production of up to 100,000 barrels a day "soon", without specifying a timeframe, and called for more aid, immediately.

"It is a failure if there is no clear financial commitment to it," he told reporters. "Our people are dying ... So my message to our friends is that I hope they walk the walk."

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini told Reuters Italy would give the rebels up to €400 million of cash and fuel aid backed by frozen Libyan assets. Kuwait said it would immediately transfer $180 million to the rebels.

France pledged €290 million to the rebels in "preferential loans" and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey had set up a $100 fund.

That pledge of assistance came at a meeting of the so-called Libya contact group, including the United States, France and Britain, as well as Arab allies Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan, which is pressing the rebels to give a detailed plan on how they would run the country if Col Gadafy stood down or was toppled.

"The international community is beginning to talk about what could constitute end-game to this," one senior US official told reporters aboard US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's plane which landed in Abu Dhabi last night.

That official listed scenarios including a ceasefire, which Tripoli has demanded include Nato and leave Col Gadaffi's fate open.

The rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) and its Western allies have rejected Libyan government ceasefire offers that do not include Gadafy stepping down first.

Rebels in the besieged western city of Misrata said thousands of pro-Gadafy forces launched a major advance on the city and killed at least 12 people with a barrage of shell fire late last night, though Nato disputed that account.

"There were some small groups of pro-Gadafy forces who were trying to advance towards the centre of Misrata ... but I think this is an embellishment," a Nato official said.

Today, a separate rebel spokesman, Suleiman, said by phone the city had been bombarded from east, south, and west.

Col Gadafy troops and the rebels have been deadlocked for weeks between the eastern towns of Ajdabiyah and the Gadafy-held oil town of Brega. Rebels also control the western city of Misrata and the range of western mountains near the border with Tunisia.

Reuters