- Associated Press - Friday, July 1, 2011

MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AP) — Africa’s heads of state spent the day behind closed doors on Friday, trying to reach a consensus on what to do with Libya’s defiant leader Moammar Gadhafi, whose ouster would be a source of discomfort for the continent’s other entrenched rulers.

Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Toure said the leaders had made progress as he emerged for a break from the confidential session after hours of discussion. “But we are not yet done,” he said.

Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the president of the Republic of Congo and on of five members of the African Union’s high level ad hoc committee on Libya, said the group would find a solution. The leaders are meeting in Equatorial Guinea’s capital for this week’s African Union summit, whose theme of youth empowerment has been hijacked by the widening crisis in Libya.

Only several months ago, Gadhafi was thought to be one of the most secure of the continent’s dictators, his 40-year grip on Libya still iron strong.

Among the sticking points for the presidents meeting here is what to do with Gadhafi, with some members wanting him to step down and others insisting he should be part of the solution.

Gadhafi’s fall could have a domino effect, emboldening populations to rise up against other autocratic regimes, including the one in this tiny nation on Africa’s western coast where critics of the regime are systematically tortured and where allegiance to the ruling party is so absolute that citizens are afraid of being seen reading the nation’s only opposition newspaper.

Backers of Gadhafi are believed to include the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who was recently elected as the African Union’s rotating chairman.

The ad hoc committee on Libya has already proposed a road map, which calls for a cease-fire followed by negotiations between the warring sides leading to the creation of a transitional authority. Initially the committee was pushing for Gadhafi to be part of the negotiations, a proposal the rebels rejected. On Sunday in what appeared to be a concession, the group announced that Gadhafi had agreed not to be part of the negotiations, and in a statement the committee said they had welcomed his decision to step aside.

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