Muammar Gaddafi could stay in Libya if he gives up power, France has said, signaling a new effort to find a diplomatic solution to a conflict that has so far failed to topple the Libyan leader.
French foreign minister Alain Juppe, speaking on France's LCI TV, said foreign powers were now ready to let Gaddafi stay in Libya if he stepped down.
"One of the scenarios effectively envisaged is that he stays in Libya on one condition which I repeat - that he very clearly steps aside from Libyan political life," Juppe said.
"A ceasefire depends on Gaddafi committing clearly and formally to surrender his military and civilian roles."
However, Gaddafi's foreign minister swiftly dismissed the French proposal, saying Gaddafi's departure after 41 years in power was not a matter for discussion.
France's proposal reflected an awareness that it would be hard, if not impossible, to flush Gaddafi out of Tripoli by force or persuasion. Opposition forces have struggled to maintain steady progress towards the capital Tripoli.
On Wednesday, anti-Gaddafi forces suffered heavy casualties in fighting for the eastern oil hub of Brega, a town they must capture if they are to advance towards Tripoli.
Eighteen fighters were killed and up to 150 wounded in the latest clashes, a doctor at an opposition-controlled hospital said.
"Yesterday, it was a disaster," Dr Sarahat Atta-Alah told Reuters News Agency at Ajdabiya hospital in eastern Libya.
Heavy fighting was also reported near the western town of Misrata, an opposition stronghold. Medical workers at the city's Hikam hospital said seven opposition fighters had been killed and 35 wounded.
Call for more aid
Three Libyan opposition leaders met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, asking him to persuade France's Arab allies to provide them with weapons.
"France can help us get this help from friendly Arab countries," Souleiman Fortia, a representative of the National Transitional Council, told reporters after the meeting.
"With a bit of help we can be in Tripoli soon."
France was the first country to publicly recognise the council and the first to launch air strikes against Gaddafi forces when now NATO-led operations began in March.
"We want to maintain close links with them and see how we can help them," said Juppe.