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Gaddafi's few friends leave limited exit options

Gaddafi's few friends leave limited exit options
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Dozens of chanting supporters stand alongside the Libyan leader in his bombed-out bunker in Tripoli, waving their flags.

It is the image that Colonel Gaddafi would like to portray to the world. A Libya where “everyone loves me”, as he said in an interview before the coalition strikes began, denying there was any meaningful uprising against his rule.

The defiant stance is good for morale. But Gaddafi has not made an appearance like this – or any outing in public – since mid-March.

Far from loving him, several of his entourage have been queuing up to leave him. First there was the ex Libyan Ambassador to the UN, then Moussa Koussa the Foreign Minister, and this weekend came the turn of his adviser, Ali Triki.

Even before foreign ministers gathered at the London summit, the U.S Secretary of State said that people close to the Colonel were making overtures, seeking a possible way out.

“We must continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator but to the Libyan people. We agree with the Arab League that Gaddafi has lost his legitimacy to lead. We agree with the African Union on the need for a democratic transition process,” Hillary Clinton told the summit.

Although the Libyan opposition want Gaddafi brought to book, the main goal is an end to the fighting and his regime.

A scenario where that could be brought about by the dictator fleeing the country would have its merits.

The question is who would want him? His friends are few and far between.

Hugo Chavez has defended Gaddafi. His vociferous anti-Americanism is well known. Right at the start of the conflict the Colonel was rumoured – wrongly – to have been on a plane to Venezuela.

But Chavez’s own future is in question. Welcoming an international outcast may not help.

A possible shelter closer to home has been mooted. Like Gaddafi’s Libya, Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe has not been averse to using terror to crush opponents.

Saudi Arabia has been a haven for dictators in trouble. Tunisia’s Ben Ali fled there. But Gaddafi is far from being a friend of King Abdullah, and the Gulf state is not seen as a serious option.

Instead the solution may have to come from within Libya itself.

Unless more defections cause the regime to collapse, the coalition’s main hope must be that the opposition can seize the moment.

Air strikes have paved the way. But the rebels’ inexperience and disorganisation have been exposed.

Whether their will outlasts that of their long-term oppressor may well be decisive.