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Qaddafi appears on TV greeting Zuma and has a French lawyer to his defense

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South African President Jacob Zuma met Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi for truce talks on Monday as NATO said the strongman's "reign of terror" was nearing its end and top military officers deserted him.

State news agency JANA said Mr. Zuma left the capital after a visit lasting several hours during which he met the embattled Qaddafi.

State television broadcast footage of Libya’s Qaddafi welcoming Mr. Zuma at the entrance to a building, in the Libyan leader's first reported public appearance since May 11, Agence-France Presse reported.

JANA said that during Mr.Zuma's talks, Tripoli denounced NATO "violations" of UN resolutions, attempts at "political assassination" and destruction of the country's infrastructure and the maritime blockade of Libya.

Mr. Zuma arrived at Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound, a regular target of NATO air strikes, at 1400 GMT.

During the talks, the Tripoli regime also demanded a meeting of the UN Security Council to review "mechanisms for applying resolutions on Libya," JANA said.

Before his Tripoli talks, Zuma told South African television news that the NATO campaign was thwarting African Union attempts to broker a peace deal.

Meanwhile, former French foreign minister Roland Dumas visited Libya as a lawyer to prepare a legal case on behalf of victims of NATO bombing and said he was prepared to defend the Libyan leader if he is sent to The Hague, as South Africa President was expected in Tripoli Monday for talks on an “exit strategy.”

Mr. Dumas, who served as foreign minister under socialist President Francois Mitterrand, said he had seen several civilian victims of NATO bombing in a hospital and had been told by a doctor there that there were as many as 20,000 more, according to Reuters.

NATO says it has struck only military targets. Despite repeated promises by Mr. Qaddafi’s media officials, Western journalists based in Tripoli have been shown no evidence of large numbers of civilians killed or injured by NATO bombing.

“This is brutal, brutal aggression against a sovereign country,” Mr. Dumas told a news conference in a Tripoli luxury hotel on Sunday, attended by people introduced as family members and supporters of relatives of civilian casualties.

“At the moment we have been retained, we have a mandate on behalf of the victims of the military bombardment of NATO, who carried out their military action against civilians with the artificial—very artificial—cover of the United Nations,” Mr. Dumas said.

“Following an approach by the government of Libya, we have decided to make this trip to see for ourselves the condition of the victims and the situation,” he said.

At the moment we have been retained, we have a mandate on behalf of the victims of the military bombardment of NATO, who carried out their military action against civilians with the artificial—very artificial—cover of the United Nations

Former French foreign minister Roland Dumas

"Unmasking those assassins"

Mr. Dumas was accompanied by prominent French defense lawyer Jacques Verges, who said his goal was to “unmask those assassins” responsible for NATO air strikes. Verges said he had wept in hospital upon meeting civilians wounded “solely because they are Libyans.”

Mr. Verges—whose clients have included Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie—and Mr. Dumas had been among lawyers expected to defend ousted Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, who is being investigated for alleged human rights abuses during the conflict sparked by the disputed 2010 presidential election.

Their names were dropped from the most recent list of Gbagbo’s lawyers.

Mr. Dumas was not able to describe the exact nature of the case he intended to launch on behalf of the wounded victims, but told Reuters he would make a more detailed announcement after returning to France and studying the case in more depth.

The Western alliance is leading an air campaign against Libya under a United Nations resolution permitting force to prevent Mr. Qaddafi’s forces from killing civilians.

Human rights groups say scores of people were killed by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces cracking down on demonstrators before the air strikes began, and hundreds have since died as a result of government troops’ siege of the revolt-held city of Misrata.

Mr. Dumas, long an opponent of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said he would be prepared to defend the 68-year-old colonel if the Libyan leader were forced to appear before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, although he described such a scenario as unlikely.

“If he asked me, yes, of course. Yes of course. (But) I don’t think it is going to happen,” he told Reuters.

The court’s prosecutor has called for indictments against Mr. Qaddafi, one of his sons and the head of Libyan intelligence, for killing civilians and other offenses in the country of six-million people.

Libyan officials said Mr. Dumas and Mr. Verges had offered their services “as volunteers” to represent the civilian victims of NATO bombing. Mr. Dumas declined to say whether they planned to accept payment from Mr. Qaddafi’s government for their services.

Asked if he had received money from Mr. Qaddafi’s government, Mr. Dumas told Reuters: “No, no. Nothing for the moment.”

Asked if that implied he would accept money from Colonel Qaddafi’s government in the future, he said: “We are working as a lawyer. Like the English lawyer or the American lawyer. Okay?”

South Africa’s mediation

A source in Mr. Zuma’s office, on condition of anonymity, has said that “the purpose (of the visit) is to discuss an exit strategy for Qaddafi,” while another said South Africa was working with Turkey on the exit plan.

Mr. Zuma’s spokesman Zizi Kodwa insisted however that discussion of an exit strategy was “misleading,” saying the visit was taking place within African Union efforts for Libya to adopt the political reforms needed to end the crisis.

“The entire world has reached a consensus that Colonel Qaddafi and his regime have not only lost their legitimacy but also their credibility,” rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said meanwhile from the protesters’ Benghazi bastion.

“I would like to welcome the position taken... by the G8 where members emphasized the necessity of Colonel Qaddafi’s departure,” he said in a message marking 100 days since the outbreak of the anti-regime revolt.

“The position taken by the G8 is reflective of the will of the international community as well as the demands and aspirations of the Libyan people.”

On Friday, G8 leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States called for Mr. Qaddafi to step down after more than 40 years in the face of pro-democracy protests turned full-fledged armed revolt.

Russia at the same time finally joined explicit calls for Colonel Qaddafi to go.

The Libyan regime responded by saying any initiative to resolve the crisis would have to go through the African Union.

“The G8 is an economic summit. We are not concerned by its decisions,” said Tripoli’s deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaaim.

“We are an African country. Any initiative outside the AU framework will be rejected,” he said.

Mr. Kaaim, who confirmed President Zuma’s visit Monday, did not indicate whether Mr. Qaddafi’s departure would be discussed.

Turkey last month gave the international community, including the African Union, a proposed “roadmap” to end the Libyan turmoil by removing Mr. Qaddafi and opening the way for a comprehensive political transition.

On the humanitarian front, Italian coastguards rescued 210 refugees from the Libya conflict whose vessel was drifting aimlessly in the Mediterranean south of Lampedusa, prompting Rome to accuse Malta of inaction.

(Abeer Tayel, an editor at Al Arabiya, can be reached at: abeer.tayel@mbc.net)