|The first Contact Group meeting, to plan a democratic post-Gaddafi Libya, was held in Qatar two months ago [AFP]
Muammar Gaddafi's days as leader of Libya are numbered, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has said at the International Contact Group [ICG] on Libya meeting in Abu Dhabi.
"Gaddafi's days are numbered. We are working with our international partners through the UN to plan for the inevitable: a post-Gaddafi Libya," Clinton said on Thursday.
Clinton also said talks were under way with people close to the Libyan leader and that there was "the potential" for a transition of power in Libya.
"There have been numerous and continuing discussions by people close to Gaddafi and we are aware that those discussions include, among other matters, the potential for a transition," she said.
She gave no further details on the talks, other than to say "there is not any clear way forward yet".
Donors at the ICG meeting pledged more than $1.3bn to help support the National Transitional Council (NTC), the main body representing the Libyan rebels fighting against Gaddafi.
Italy and France offered a combined $1.02bn while Kuwait and Qatar promised a combined $280m to a fund set up to provide transparent assistance to the opposition.
Turkey has established a $100m fund to support the Libyan opposition government based in Benghazi, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said.
Clinton said "we are ready for the establishment of financial mechanism for the money to flow to the National Transitional Council".
The US secretary of state said while Washington would boost its humanitarian aid to all Libyans by $26.5m it was not offering any direct aid to the NTC.
This was despite Clinton acknowledging that the council "faces a serious budget shortfall'' and "needs our immediate financial assistance".
A US offical, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "We understand the NTC's frustration but again the
international community isn't going to let the TNC go under."
Washington said on Wednesday that the first shipment of Libyan oil sold by the council had been delivered to a US refinery and Clinton encouraged other nations to make similar purchases to help the Libyan people.
The Benghazi-based leadership has said it hopes to restart production of up to 100,000 barrels a day soon, without specifying a timeframe.
Shortage of funds
Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, who defected from Gaddafi's government while he was the foreign minister, said the rebels needed $3bn to cover salaries and food costs for the next four months.
The total amount pledged, while significant, falls short of the $3bn the opposition group is demanding to survive for the next four months.
The rebels say that Gaddafi's assets frozen abroad, which are reportedly worth $160bn, should be made available to them.
Ali Tarhouni, the opposition finance minister, urged nations to allow the council to use the funds as collateral for loans.
"Our people are dying," he said.
"It's been almost four months now and nothing has materialised so far. Our message to our friends is that I hope that they walk the walk."
The number of countries recognising the rebel council is growing by each day. A day after Spain recognised the NTC, Australia said the rebel government was legitimate.
Portugal, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus may also recognise the rebel council soon.
NATO pounds Tripoli
NATO continued its airstrikes on Thursday with bombing runs believed to have targeted the outskirts of Tripoli.
The intensity of the attacks suggested a return to NATO's heavy bombardment of the city on Tuesday that hit military installations across the capital and flattened major buildings in Gaddafi's sprawling compound at the centre of the city.
There were eight explosions in a first series of strikes on Thursday. Hours later, the sound of six more attacks boomed in the distance.
On Wednesday, Gaddafi forces renewed their shelling near the rebel-held western city of Misurata, killing at least 12 rebel fighters.
In Brussels, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, said the shelling near Misurata underscored the continued need to protect civilians.
"It is an example that the Gaddafi regime still constitutes a threat to the civilian population,'' he said. "We will stay committed as long as necessary."
Meanwhile, Gaddafi's regime on Thursday vehemently denied accusations by a UN panel and Western nations that Libyan government forces had committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.