Libya's Gadhafi holds on, son suggests election

Russia's envoy met with Libya's foreign minister Thursday and said afterward that longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi is still refusing to give up power.

Gadhafi's son told an Italian newspaper that his father would not go into exile, but elections under international supervision could offer a way out. The U.S. quickly dismissed the idea and insisted Gadhafi must leave.

The Russian Interfax agency reported that Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi told Russian presidential envoy Mikhail Margelov: "Gadhafi is not prepared to leave, and the Libyan leadership will talk about the country's future only after a cease-fire." Reporters taken to a site of a NATO bombing in the capital Tripoli Thursday saw Margelov there in the company of Libyan government officials.

Last week, Margelov visited the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi and said that Gadhafi has lost his legitimacy. Margelov also said NATO airstrikes are not a solution to Libya's violent stalemate.

NATO has conducted three months of intense airstrikes on Gadhafi's forces and command structure, but has failed to unseat the country's leader of more than four decades. The NATO campaign has lent support to Libyan rebels who have captured most of the eastern half of the country and are rising up in pockets of the west as well.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said his government was calling together tribal leaders from all parts of Libya for a meeting to promote reconciliation, the latest acknowledgment that the solution to the Libya crisis may not be entirely military.

Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam, who appeared to be being groomed to succeed his father before the revolt against the regime began in February, told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that Gadhafi would step aside if he lost an election. But the son said that was unlikely.

He acknowledged, however, that "my father's regime as it developed since 1969 is dead." The son said he envisions a federal state with strong local autonomy and a weak central government in Tripoli.

Gadhafi's son has served as his main spokesman during the conflict, but like Gadhafi himself, he has been heard from rarely in recent weeks.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland rejected the idea of elections in Libya.

"It's a little late for any proposals by Gadhafi and his circles for democratic change," she said Thursday. "It's time for him to go."

The latest NATO strike on Gadhafi's compound rattled windows across the heart of the capital, producing thunderous concussions and smoke billowing into the air. NATO warplanes have repeatedly targeted the area in and around the Bab al-Aziziya compound.

NATO launched its air campaign nearly three months ago under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians. What started as a peaceful uprising inside the country against Gadhafi and his more than four-decade rule has become a civil war.

Poorly equipped and trained rebel fighters have taken control of the eastern third of Libya and pockets of the west. The fighting had reached a stalemate until last week when NATO launched the heaviest bombardment of Gadhafi forces since the alliance took control of the skies over Libya.

Tunisian army official Mokhtar Ben Nasr said the number of Libyans fleeing has mounted in recent days, with 6,330 Libyan refugees crossing into Tunisia earlier this week. Dozens of Libyan soldiers also have defected to Tunisia by boat, the state news agency there reported Wednesday.

A Tunisian official said a lieutenant colonel was the latest Libyan officer to desert Gadhafi's army and flee across the border.

The official told The Associated Press Thursday that the officer took a desert road through the Sahara to cross the border near the town of Ben Guerdane, where he was stopped by a Tunisian national guard unit.

The officer told authorities that he wanted to join his family. They had earlier fled Libya for the Tunisian island of Djerba, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.


Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.