TRIPOLI, Libya — Italy formally recognized the rebel government of eastern Libya, dealing yet another blow to the beleaguered regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi as it attempts to maneuver its way out of its worst crisis in four decades.
A government spokesman declared late Monday that the Gadhafi regime would be willing to consider a referendum and other drastic reforms so long as Gadhafi retained a leadership role before the vote. The Libyan government has also reinvigorated diplomatic efforts, dispatching a diplomat to Greece, Turkey and Malta after failing to gain a decisive victory on the battlefield against rebels in the east or emerge from international isolation.
â€œHe led the revolution in Libya. He has symbolic significance for the people in Libya,â€ government spokesman Musa Ibrahim said. â€œHow Libya is governed is a different matter. What kind of political system implemented in the country is a different matter. This is negotiable. We can have anything — elections, referenda, anything. We could have any political changes, constitution, elections. But the leader has to lead this road.â€
Gadhafiâ€™s violent suppression of protests spurred by recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt sparked a civil war that has divided Libya into a rebel-held east and a western region largely controlled by Gadhafi loyalists. The U.N. authorized a no-fly zone and airstrikes on Gadhafiâ€™s forces as they were about to pounce on the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi last month.
But after advancing against Gadhafiâ€™s forces with the aid of airstrikes, the rebels were beaten back and are now locked in a stalemate at Port Brega. Rebel fighters continued to be kept at bay on the edge of the oil city that Gadhafiâ€™s forces retook last week. Some rebel officials have acknowledged they are now trying to hold on to territory rather than mount another push on Gadhafiâ€™s territory after being repelled last week.
Despite claims by the Libyan government that it was abiding by a cease-fire, a spokesman in the rebel-held western city of Misrata said five civilians had been killed and 24 injured Monday as a result of intense artillery barrages by Gadhafiâ€™s forces.