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France Withdraws Aircraft Carrier from Libya Mission

AFP, Thursday, August 4, 2011 12:10:37 PM

France said Thursday its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle would return home for maintenance next week from the NATO-led mission over Libya, but insisted there would be no respite for Muammar Gaddafi.

The vessel, France's only aircraft carrier and Europe's biggest warship, will leave on August 10 to head for its home port of Toulon for several weeks of work, defence minister Gerard Longuet told Var-Matin newspaper.

The French navy website however said Thursday it would take "several months" to complete the work on the ship that has been engaged in the operation since March 22.

Longuet insisted that France would maintain its commitment to the Libya mission, where since March the alliance has conducted air strikes against Gaddafi's forces as part of a UN mandate to protect civilians.

"Gaddafi should not expect any respite," he said, adding that French warplanes would keep up their strikes and reconnaissance flights from land bases.

NATO allies are in a hurry to bring the air war in Libya to a victorious end but are having to carry on with a shrinking alliance after Norway withdrew its jets and Italy pulled an aircraft carrier.
Longuet's announcement came three days after Norway withdrew its final four F-16 fighter jets.
Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler, last month scaled back its involvement in the operation by withdrawing the aircraft carrier Garibaldi.

Only eight of NATO's 28 member states have flown bombing missions since the alliance took command of the operation in late March: Norway, Britain, France, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and the United States.

London has increased its contribution by adding four Tornado jets, effectively making up for the loss of the Norwegian planes.

A total of 17,566 air sorties, including 6,648 bombing sorties, have been conducted since the beginning of the NATO operation over Libya.

With Gaddafi refusing to step down, allied tactics and diplomatic messages are under adjustment. The United States, France and Britain indicated in recent days the dictator could stay in Libya if he cedes power an option the rebels have rejected.

Gaddafi camp works with Islamist rebels, son says

Credit: Reuters/Bob Strong

WASHINGTON | Thu Aug 4, 2011 7:23am EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - -

Muammar Gaddafi's camp is courting Islamist rebels to turn against liberals, his son said in an interview, a sign of efforts to exploit divisions within the insurgency after the killing of its military chief.

The New York Times said an Islamist rebel figure named by Gaddafi's son as his interlocutor had confirmed the contacts but denied he had split with liberals in the rebellion.

Gaddafi cracked down firmly on Islamists during his 41 years in power, and many Islamists have sided with more liberal, pro-Western rebels trying to oust him.

Talk of splits within the Benghazi-based rebellion have escalated since the killing last week of their top military commander, General Abdel Fattah Younes, who was assassinated after having been summoned back from the front line.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi told the New York Times that he had made contact with Islamists among the rebels. The government and the Islamists would announce an alliance in a joint statement within days, he said.

"The liberals will escape or be killed," Saif al-Islam, once seen as a reformist and a potential successor to his father, told the newspaper.

"We will do it together ... Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. So what?" he said. "I know they are terrorists. They are bloody. They are not nice. But you have to accept them," he added of the Islamists.

He said he had been in contact with an Islamist rebel figure, Ali Sallabi, describing him as the "real leader" of the rebellion and the "spiritual leader" of its Islamists.

The New York Times quoted Sallabi as acknowledging contacts with Saif al-Islam but saying he remained allied with liberals seeking to oust the Gaddafi family from power.

"Liberals are a part of Libya," the newspaper quoted Sallabi as saying. "I believe in their right to present their political project and convince the people with it."

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi had had "many discussions" with the opposition, Sallabi said. "The first thing discussed is their departure from power."

The killing of Younes has yet to be fully explained. It exposed tribal rivalries within the rebellion as well as divisions between its Islamist and liberal wings, and raised concerns over whether the rebels would be able to maintain stability if they eventually take power.

As Gaddafi's former interior minister, Younes had many enemies, including among Islamists targeted in government crackdowns.

Saif al-Islam said the Gaddafi camp had met twice with Younes in Italy before he was killed.

"We told him, 'you will be killed at the end of the day, because you are playing with the snakes,' and he said, 'Nonsense.'"

(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Peter Graff)

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