Zuma to offer Gaddafi 'exit strategy'

South African leader to visit Tripoli in bid to persuade Libyan leader to step down, as NATO steps up bombing campaign.

    Zuma headed an AU delegation to Libya last month, but failed to broker a peace deal [EPA]

    South African president Jacob Zuma will visit Libya next week for talks officials say will focus on an "exit strategy" for the country's embattled leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

    Zuma visited Tripoli on April 10 as part of an African Union delegation to broker a truce between Gaddafi and his opponents, but a peace plan fell through when the rebels insisted the longtime ruler step down.

    "President Zuma will stop over in Tripoli for a discussion on May 30," the South African presidency said in a statement.

    Two sources in the presidency, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks would focus on Gaddafi's "exit strategy", the AFP news agency reported.

    "The meeting is still very much in the planning stages," the source added. A second official said South Africa was working with Turkey on an exit plan for Gaddafi.

    Despite attempting to negotiate peace in Libya, South Africa voted for a UN resolution authorising a no-fly zone over the country. But Pretoria has also since criticised NATO's bombing campaign, and said that it does not support regime change in the country.

    'Grave violation'

    Further NATO military strikes against targets in Tripoli overnight also drew criticism from Russia on Wednesday.

    "We clearly see another grave violation on UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that the escalation of NATO's campaign could lead to further violence and cause more suffering.

    Russia said western attempts to justify the offensive by pointing to the threats being posed to civilians by Gaddafi's forces ignored the danger of the regime becoming even more entrenched in its stance.

    Russia abstained from the second UN resolution on Libya in a move that allowed international forces to launch their air campaign.

    "Air strikes are not stopping the military confrontation between the Libyan parties and only creating more suffering among peaceful civilians," the foreign ministry said.

    The Russian statement added that NATO's current strategy was "in no way moving us closer toward achieving the overall goal of quickly ending the armed conflict".

    NATO forces have stepped up their bombing campaign in Tripoli in the past two nights, apparently targeting Gaddafi's Bab Al-Aziziya residential compound.

    Two sets of three large blasts occurred late on Tuesday, killing 19 people and injuring 150, according to Libyan state television, which aired footage of at least three young men on stretchers with gaping head wounds, and covered with dust.

    Led by France, Britain and the United States, NATO warplanes have been bombing Libya for more than two months.

    Libyan rebels who are trying to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule, control the east of the oil-producing country, but the conflict has been deadlocked for weeks.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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