Gaddafi wants talks with rebels: chess official

MOSCOW Tue Jul 5, 2011 6:14pm EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's oldest son has said the Libyan leader is willing to negotiate with rebels to end the violence that has gripped the country since February, a Russian chess official said on Tuesday after a trip to Tripoli.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the head of the World Chess Federation and a previous visitor to Libya, told Reuters in an interview that he met with Gaddafi's eldest son Mohammed throughout his three-day visit.

"Gaddafi is ready to conduct talks with the rebels without any conditions in order to stop the bombings," Ilyumzhinov said, relaying information that he said Mohammed Gaddafi had told him.

"They want dialogue, and in that dialogue Gaddafi is ready to work out plans with other sides for an election or a referendum," he added, speaking to Reuters by telephone from Moscow's World Chess Federation headquarters.

The New York Times has called Ilyumzhinov an informal go-between for the Kremlin and Libya, a role he denied he plays. He said he has gone to Libya to inspect the state of chess schools in the country and carries no messages from Moscow.

Ilyumzhinov's comments came as a Russian newspaper said on Tuesday that Gaddafi was sounding out the possibility of handing over power, but the Libyan government denied it was in talks about the veteran leader stepping down.

"Information about negotiations about Gaddafi stepping down or seeking a safe refuge inside or outside the country is simply untrue," Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told Reuters.

"Gaddafi is not negotiable, this is our position of principle, and the future of Libya will be decided by Libyans. Gaddafi is an historical symbol, and Libyans will die to defend him," Ibrahim said.

Ilyumzhinov also denied the report that Gaddafi is seeking to negotiate his exit from Libya and was looking for guarantees for his security if he were to leave.

"Such talk comes from people who have no idea what is happening inside the country. Mohammed said his father has no intention of leaving," Ilyumzhinov said.

Five months into a conflict that has embroiled NATO and become the bloodiest of the "Arab Spring" uprisings, there has been a flurry of reports about talks on Gaddafi ending his 41 years in power in exchange for security guarantees.

Russia on Monday held talks with NATO which were dominated by differences between the once Cold-War foes over the North Atlantic bloc's mission in the country. Russia abstained in a U.N. vote that authorized Western force in Libya, but has criticized the scope of the mission since.

Ilyumzhinov, who also is the first president of the Russian region of Kalmykia, travels regularly to Libya and previously met with Gaddafi in June, when he had the chance to play chess with the Colonel.

"He looked in good shape, we drank tea together, he is a good player," said Ilyumzhinov, who cuts a colorful figure in Russia, with claims to have been abducted by aliens.

One of Gaddafi's motives for wanting to stay in the country, Ilyumzhinov said, includes the belief that his support among Libyans is strong enough to win an election or referendum following an end to violence.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)

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