TRIPOLI // The Libyan government yesterday renewed its offer to hold a vote on whether Colonel Muammar Qaddafi should stay in power, a proposal unlikely to interest Colonel Qaddafi's opponents but which could widen differences inside Nato.
Pressure is growing from some quarters within the alliance to find a political solution, three months into a military campaign that is costing Nato members billions of dollars, has killed civilians, and has so far failed to topple Colonel Qaddafi.
Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Qaddafi administration, told reporters in Tripoli the government was proposing a period of national dialogue and an election overseen by the United Nations and the African Union.
"If the Libyan people decide Qaddafi should leave, he will leave. If the people decide he should stay, he will stay," Mr Ibrahim said.
But he said Colonel Qaddafi, who has run the oil-producing country since taking over in a military coup in 1969, would not go into exile whatever happened. "Qaddafi is not leaving anywhere, he is staying in this country," Mr Ibrahim said.
The idea of holding an election was first raised this month by one of Colonel Qaddafi's sons, Saif Al Islam.
The proposal lost momentum when Libya's prime minister, Al Baghdadi Ali Al Mahmoudi, appeared to dismiss it. At the time, it was also rejected by anti-Qaddafi rebels in the east of Libya, and by Washington.
Many analysts say Colonel Qaddafi and his family have no intention of relinquishing power. Instead, they say, the Libyan leader is holding out the possibility of a deal to try to widen cracks that have been emerging in the alliance ranged against him.
The election proposal could find a more receptive audience this time around, especially after a Nato bomb landed on a house in Tripoli on June 19, killing several civilians.
After that incident, alliance member Italy said it wanted a political settlement, and also said that the civilian casualties threaten Nato's credibility.
Libyan government forces have been fighting rebels backed by Nato air power since February 17, when thousands of people rose up in a rebellion against Colonel Qaddafi's rule.
The revolt has turned into the bloodiest of the Arab Spring uprisings sweeping the Middle East. Rebels now control the eastern third of the country, and some enclaves in the west. They have been unable though to break through to the capital, leaving western powers banking on an uprising in Tripoli to overthrow Colonel Qaddafi.
The Libyan leader suffered a propaganda defeat when four members of the national football team and 13 other football figures defected to the rebels, the rebel council said.
Libyans are passionate about the sport and the national team was closely aligned with Colonel Qaddafi's rule. At one point his son, Saadi, played in the side.
Asked about the defections, government spokesman Mr Ibrahim said: "The Libyan football team is full and functioning and performing all of its duties inside and outside Libya."