Even as rebel forces swept through Tripoli and Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi's whereabouts remained unclear, United States President Barack Obama issued a statement welcoming the rebel advances but implied that the Transitional National Council needed to “demonstrate... leadership” and that the Qadhafi regime had not yet drawn its last breath.

Mr. Obama said while the U.S. recognised the TNC as the legitimate governing authority in Libya, “at this pivotal and historic time, the TNC should continue to demonstrate the leadership that is necessary to steer the country through a transition by respecting the rights of the people of Libya, avoiding civilian casualties, protecting the institutions of the Libyan state, and pursuing a transition to democracy that is just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya.”

Mr. Obama's statement comes in the wake of continuing questions surrounding the composition of the rebel grouping, particularly its links to radical groups. Doubts about such links mounted last month following the death of a senior Libyan military leader, Abdul Fatah Younis.

While the perpetrators are yet to be identified, some analysts warned that rebel-linked extremist groups may have been responsible. However, following its recent recognition of the TNC the U.S. permitted the rebel grouping to open a consulate in Washington.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed some of the uncertainty about the position of various groups involved in the Libyan conflict, calling on “Qadhafi's remaining allies and forces... to end their careers of violence. The world is watching them. This is their opportunity to side with the Libyan people and choose the right side of history.”

In his message Mr. Obama emphasised that rebel advances suggested that “the Qadhafi regime has reached a tipping point... [and] showing signs of collapsing”. However, he stopped short of saying the regime had collapsed entirely.

Calling on Mr. Qadhafi to “acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya”, Mr. Obama reiterated that the future of Libya was now in the hands of the Libyan people but the U.S. would continue to “stay in close coordination with the TNC”.

Keywords: Libyan crisis

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