|The 'Arab Spring', particularly unrest in Libya and Syria, was high on the agenda at the G8 summit [Reuters]
Russia has agreed to mediate the exit of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's leader, after leaders at the Group of Eight (G8) meeting in France called on Russia to take the role.
Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, told reporters on Friday that "Gaddafi has forfeited legitimacy" and that Russia is ready "to help him go".
Soon after, Mikhail Margelov, Moscow's special representative on Africa told reporters that his country is ready to negotiate Gaddafi's departure.
Margelov explained that Russia is in contact with Gaddafi's entourage, and that they are willing to negotiate Libyan leader’s fate.
"We shouldn't talk to Gaddafi himself but with members of his cabinet, possibly with his sons. And we are making such contacts, so there is a hope for a political resolution," Margelov told reporters at the G8 summit in northern France.
When asked to specify who Russia's main partner would be in such talks, he said, "Can you imagine, if I give you this person's name and his head were to be cut off the next day? But yes, we do have people in Gaddafi's camp."
The Libyan regime rejected the G8 calls for Gaddafi to stand down and said any initiative to resolve the crisis would have to go through the African Union.
"The G8 is an economic summit. We are not concerned by its decisions," said Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaaim.
Tripoli also rejects Russian mediation and will "not accept any mediation which marginalises the peace plan of the African Union," he said. "We are an African country. Any initiative outside the AU framework will be rejected."
Kaaim said it had no confirmation of a change in Russia's position.
"We have not been officially informed. We are in the process of contacting the Russian government to verify reports in the press," the official told a press conference.
But Kaaim declared that "no one can dictate to Libyans their political future. All political decisions in the country only concern Libyans."
Russia has been critical of the NATO-led bombing campaign, but after months of violent and bloody clashes, agreed that Gaddafi should step aside.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, thanked Dmitry Medvedev, his Russian counterpart, for helping efforts to resolve the conflict in Libya.
The French leader also confirmed that he planned to visit Benghazi, the rebel stronghold of eastern Libya, and suggested the trip would be made with David Cameron, the British prime minister.
"We spoke about this with David Cameron. It should be a Franco-British initiative," he said at the Deauville summit, but added no date had been set.
Cameron, who did not confirm the journey, said NATO's campaign in the northern African nation was entering a new phase and that "momentum against Gaddafi is really building".
"So it is right that we are ratcheting up the military, economic and the political pressure," he said.
Earlier in the day, Barack Obama, the US president, said the UN mandate in Libya could not be met while Gaddafi stayed in the country.
"We agreed that we have made progress on our Libya campaign, but that meeting the UN mandate of civilian protection cannot be accomplished when Gaddafi remains in Libya, directing his forces ... and we are joined in [our] resolve to finish the job," he said.
Fresh fighting in Misurata
Meanwhile, fierce fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Gaddafi broke out on the Western outskirts of the city of Misurata, according to reports.
A medical worker on the rebel side said that six fighters had been wounded in the fighting, two of them critically.
"We are being attacked from all sides with rockets, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and mortars," Faraj al-Mistiri, a rebel fighter, told the Reuters news agency.
"It started between 05:30 and 06:00 local time (03:30-04:00GMT). They have advanced. It's normal to and fro. They are trying their hardest to get back into Misurata," he said.
Misurata, Libya's third-largest city, is the biggest rebel stronghold in the west of the country and has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in Libya's three-month-old conflict.
The government forces have also launched rocket attacks overnight in the rebel-held town of Zintan.
In a fresh jolt to the Gaddafi administration, the Libyan central bank governor told Arabiya TV that he is abandoning the government to join the rebel movement.
NATO also continued with its fourth night of airstrikes on Tripoli, the capital, leaving smoke rising from Gaddafi's compound where five loud blasts were heard in the vicinity.
Citing British intelligence reports, a European diplomatic source said on Friday that Gaddafi has become increasingly "paranoid" about NATO air strikes, and for safety has been hiding in hospitals.
"One quite striking thing is the fact that Gaddafi appears to be moving from hospital to hospital, spending each night in a different one, and his motive appears quite clear," the source said.
"He is moving from one place that we won't bomb to another place that we won't bomb."
Britain deployed Apache helicopters to Libya on Friday, marking a shift in tactical approach toward ending Gaddafi's rule.
According to Nick Harvey, British junior defence minister, the helicopters would offer "a weapon with a greater degree of precision, which is better able to hit targets, including moving ones, and with a lower risk of collateral damage."
But Jim Murphy, the shadow defence spokesman, warned that the Apaches would "put British service personnel in greater danger", as they fly lower and are more vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles and potentially smaller weapons than they had been with higher-flying vehicles.
The commander of NATO's operation for the North African country said on Friday that French and British helicopters will be put into action in Libya under the military alliance's command as soon as they are ready.
"These helicopters will be operated under the Unified Protector mandate... they will be brought into action as soon as they are ready," Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard told a briefing.