- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 3, 2011

ANKARA, Turkey | Turkey escalated the pressure on Moammar Gadhafi on Tuesday despite its long-standing ties to the Libyan dictator, with its prime minister insisting that Col. Gadhafi must leave immediately “for the sake of his country’s future.”

Col. Gadhafi has ignored calls for change in Libya and instead preferred “blood, tears and pressure against his own people,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference in Istanbul.

“We wish that the Libyan leader immediately withdraw from the administration and leave Libya for his own sake and the sake of his country’s future without leading to further destruction, tears and bloodshed,” Mr. Erdogan said.

He said if Col. Gadhafi did take such a step, diplomats would arrange for his safety and for his departure to a country that will host him. Mr. Erdogan did not say whether any country was ready to accept Col. Gadhafi in exile.

Turkish leaders previously had gently urged Col. Gadhafi to meet demands for change from the rebellious opposition, then suggested that he step down. But Mr. Erdogan’s comments Tuesday were his strongest public message to Col. Gadhafi yet.

Mr. Erdogan said Col. Gadhafi, who lost his second youngest son and three of his grandchildren Saturday in a NATO bombing, must be suffering from “great grief” but must understand that the Libyan people are also suffering under his attacks.

“We want to remind that the Libyan people feel the same grief and urge him to feel their pain and take this inevitable step to prevent further pain,” Mr. Erdogan said.

NATO said the attack Saturday targeted one of the regime’s command and control centers. Col. Gadhafi and his wife were in the compound at the time but escaped unharmed, Libyan officials said, accusing the alliance of trying to assassinate the Libyan leader.

NATO officials have denied they are hunting Col. Gadhafi to break the battlefield stalemate between his troops and rebels trying for the past 10 weeks to depose him. Rebels largely control eastern Libya, while Col. Gadhafi has clung to much of the west, including the capital, Tripoli.

In Brussels on Tuesday, NATO said its warplanes will keep up the pressure on Col. Gadhafi’s regime as long as it takes to end the violence in Libya.

Italian navy Vice Admiral Rinaldo Veri said that NATO, having disrupted the regime’s ground forces on the front lines, was focusing on cutting Col. Gadhafi’s lines of communication with his troops.

On Monday, Turkey temporarily closed its embassy in Tripoli because of deteriorating security and evacuated its staff to Tunisia, a move that came a day after vandals attacked and burned the British and Italian embassies and a U.N. office there. The U.N. has withdrawn its international staff.

The Turkish consulate in the rebel-controlled city of Benghazi remains open.