ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — A top African Union official on Friday called for a transition period in Libya that would lead to democratic elections, a rare rebuke from African leaders who appear to be pushing for political reforms that could lead to Col. Moammar Gadhafi's ouster.
A Libyan government delegation is meeting in Ethiopia with five African heads of state who plan to develop a road map to encourage political reform in the North African country. It couldn't immediately be confirmed if Libyan rebels were also in attendance.
African Union commission chairman Jean Ping said in an opening speech that the AU favors an inclusive transitional period that would lead to democratic elections.
Ping stressed the inevitability of political reforms in Libya and called the aspirations of the Libyan people "legitimate." He said the international community needed to agree on a way forward.
"We are convinced, at the African Union level, that there is a sufficient basis for reaching a consensus and making a valuable contribution to finding a lasting solution in Libya," he said.
The statement calling for a transition toward elections is the strongest Libya-related statement to come out of the AU since the Libya crisis began, and could be seen as a strong rebuke to a leader who has long been well regarded by the continental body.
Libya is one of the largest donors to the AU, and in 2009 Gadhafi was given the AU's rotating, one-year chairmanship.
Gadhafi was also instrumental in the formation of the AU in 2002, and used Libya's oil wealth to fund the transformation of the old Organization of African Unity into the present-day African Union. He often has attended AU summits flanked by a coterie of extravagantly dressed men who call themselves the "traditional kings of Africa" and describe Gadhafi as the lead king.
France on Friday declared Libya's airspace "under control" after NATO agreed to take command of the no-fly zone in a compromise that appeared to set up dual command centers and possibly new confusion. Coalition warplanes struck Gadhafi's forces outside the strategic eastern gateway city of Ajdabiya.
Libya's air force has been effectively neutralized by the international military effort, and the government has taken part of its fight to the airwaves. State television has aired pictures of bodies it said were victims of airstrikes, but a U.S. intelligence report bolstered rebel claims that Gadhafi's forces had simply taken bodies from a morgue.
The U.N. Security Council authorized the embargo and no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians after Gadhafi launched attacks against anti-government protesters who demanded that he step down after 42 years in power. But rebel advances have foundered, and the two sides have been at stalemate in key cities such as Misrata and Ajdabiya, the gateway to the opposition's eastern stronghold.
Ajdabiya has been under siege for more than a week, with the rebels holding the city center but facing relentless shelling from government troops positioned on the outskirts.
Associated Press reporter Anita Powell in Johannesburg contributed to this report.
(Photo: Maxppp /Landov)