- Associated Press - Sunday, April 3, 2011

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Libyan rebels want to install a parliamentary democracy in place of longtime ruler Col. Moammar Gadhafi, one of their top leaders said Sunday, dismissing Western fears that their movement could be hijacked by Islamic extremists.

“Libyans as a whole — and I am one of them — want a civilian democracy, not dictatorship, not tribalism and not one based on violence or terrorism,” Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, vice chairman of the National Provisional Council, said in an interview with the Associated Press.

The movement has faced questions about its character and goals from many Western nations even as they delivered the international airstrikes that have pounded Col. Gadhafi’s military forces. So far, the airstrikes have not been enough to give rebel fighters the upper hand over Col. Gadhafi’s superior troops, and Western officials are debating whether arming the rebels should be the next step.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday that his country would neither arm the rebels nor send ground troops to Libya, in comments that reflected the confusion among foreign governments about the rebel movement’s nature.

“We have taken no decision to arm the rebels, the opposition, the pro-democracy people — whatever one wants to call them,” he told the BBC.

A boy holds a mock gun as a crowd of mostly women and children rally on the corniche in Benghazi, Libya, on Saturday, April 2, 2011, to protest deaths caused by Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces and his continued refusal to step down. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
A boy holds a mock gun as a crowd of mostly women ... more >

While acknowledging the importance of Islam in Libyan society, Mr. Ghoga insisted that “there is no place for an Islamic state in Libya.”

“Will we accept an extremist government? Never,” he said, dressed in a pinstriped blue suit with a pin of Libya’s pre-Gadhafi flag on his lapel.

“We will not accept radicalism, terrorism or dictatorship. We want a democratic state based on a multiparty system, the peaceful transfer of power, separation of powers, and for Libya to have, from the beginning, a constitution,” he said.

Sunday’s fighting was concentrated around the strategic oil town of Brega, as it has been repeatedly during weeks of back-and-forth battle along Libya’s eastern coast. The rebels, backed by airstrikes, made incremental advances.

Sunday, rebels fired truck-mounted rocket launchers, then moved to avoid government counterstrikes, suggesting improving tactics and training.

The council, based in the rebels’ de facto capital of Benghazi, was formed to represent the opposition in the eastern Libyan cities that shook off control of the central government in a series of popular uprisings last month.

Rebel forces — defected army units and armed civilians — have since seized much of Libya’s eastern coast but have been unable to push westward. Col. Gadhafi’s superior forces had been close to taking Benghazi before a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone and airstrikes began March 19.

Mr. Ghoga said the rebels were counting on numerous factors to push Col. Gadhafi out: growing isolation, international military support, further defections among Gadhafi loyalists and improved organization of rebel troops.

“The noose is tightening around Gadhafi,” Mr. Ghoga said, adding that he thought his fall could be in “a matter of days.”

The council rejects all negotiations with the Gadhafi regime, saying they don’t trust it, making military pressure the current tactic of choice.

Story Continues →