Blair urged Gaddafi to find ‘safe place’, say transcripts

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LONDON — Former British prime minister Tony Blair urged Muammar Gaddafi to stand aside and find a bolthole in the early days of the Libyan uprising, telephone transcripts released on Thursday showed.

Blair urged the late Libyan  leader to stop the violence, start a process of change, stand aside, resolve the situation peacefully and keep communications open between them.

Gaddafi insisted Libya was under attack from sleeper cells from the Al-Qaeda terror network who wanted to take north Africa and attack Europe — and if Western forces intervened, Libya would end up “like Iraq”.

“If you’ve a safe place to go, you should go there because this will not end peacefully,” Blair warned.

The transcripts cast light on Gaddafi’s thinking as the uprising began to escalate.

They were published by the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which is examining the Western intervention in Libya’s civil war and Britain’s options now concerning the troubled country.

Committee chair Crispin Blunt said they would consider “whether Gaddafi’s prophetic warning of the rise of extremist militant groups … was wrongly ignored” due to his “otherwise delusional” world view. Evidence suggests “Western policymakers were rather less perceptive than Gaddafi about the risks of intervention”, he said.

The committee quizzed Blair in December on his relationship with Gaddafi, after which the ex-premier, who was in office between 1997 and 2007, provided the phone transcripts released on Thursday.

The uprising that overthrew Gaddafi’s regime began in mid-February 2011. The two calls from Blair were made on February 25, 2011, the second after he reported back to US and European Union figures.

Gaddafi fled Tripoli that August and was killed on October 25. Libya has since plunged into lawlessness, with the country splitting into two warring factions.

Though out of office, Blair had influence with Gaddafi as his 2004 so-called “deal in the desert” brought Libya in from the cold as Tripoli scrapped its chemical weapons.

Gaddafi claimed Al-Qaeda cells had been attacking police stations, saying: “They want to control the Mediterranean and then they will attack Europe.”

Blair said: “The way to deal with this is the leader says and makes clear he wants a peaceful outcome. The use of airplanes to attack cities and the use of force against civilians — this has to stop.”

In the second call, Gaddafi said he was preparing to “arm the people” for a battle against “colonisation”. “If you want to reap Libya we are ready to fight, it will be like Iraq,” he said.

Blair urged Gaddafi to take the initiative and lead a peaceful transition process.

“I repeat the statement that people have said to me, if there is a way that he (Gaddafi) can leave he should do so now,” Blair said. “If we don’t find a way out in the next few hours I don’t know what will happen. This is the last chance to resolve this peacefully.”

The conversation ends with Gaddafi saying “just leave us alone” and Blair urging him to “keep the lines open”. – AFP