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Thu 31 Mar 2011 01:23 AM

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UPDATE: Libyan Foreign Minister quits, arrives in UK

Moussa Koussa, one of the most senior figures in Gaddafi's government resigns his post, says UK

UPDATE: Libyan Foreign Minister quits, arrives in UK
Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa
UPDATE: Libyan Foreign Minister quits, arrives in UK
Libyan rebels progress westward from the village of Harawa towards Moamer Kadhafis hometown of Sirte on March 28, 2011 as NATO finally agreed to take over full command of military operations to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya from a US-led coalition. (AFP/Getty Images)
UPDATE: Libyan Foreign Minister quits, arrives in UK
UPDATE: Libyan Foreign Minister quits, arrives in UK
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, one of Muammar
Gaddafi's closest advisers and a former spy chief, defected and flew to Britain
on Wednesday in protest at attacks by Gaddafi forces on civilians, a friend
said.

A British government source described his resignation as
"a significant blow" to Gaddafi and Koussa's predecessor at the
ministry said he was "part of the regime's spinal cord ... Koussa is a
pillar of the temple".

Koussa is the latest minister to defect after the revolt
against Gaddafi's 41-year rule erupted last month and Western-led air strikes
began to pound Libyan tanks and artillery being used against rebels fighting to
hold territory.

"Koussa is one of the most senior figures in Gaddafi's
government and his role was to represent the regime internationally - something
that he is no longer willing to do," a British Foreign Office spokesman
said in a statement.

He crossed the border into Tunisia on Monday and flew from
there into Farnborough, a business airport in southeast England.

"He travelled here under his own free will. He has told
us he is resigning his post," the spokesman said.

Noman Benotman, a friend and analyst at Britain's Quilliam think
tank, said Koussa was "seeking refuge" in Britain. "He has
defected from the regime," he said. "He wasn't happy at all. He
doesn't support the government attacks on civilians."

A Libyan spokesman said Koussa - who was involved in talks
that led to the Libyan convicted of the bombing of an airliner over Lockerbie,
Scotland, being released from a British jail - had not defected and was
travelling on a diplomatic mission.

Koussa, Western-educated and English speaking, was the
architect of a dramatic shift in Libya's foreign policy that brought the
oil-producing desert state back to the international community after years of
sanctions.

A potential benefit to the West from his defection is that
if he decides to share his knowledge he could reveal valuable information about
how the Gaddafi administration functions and the weak points that could be
exploited to bring Gaddafi down.

British officials were also keen to establish what role, if
any, Koussa wished to play in the anti-Gaddafi coalition. Some of other
ministers and ambassadors who have resigned since the revolt started in
February have joined the opposition.

A Western diplomat said Koussa's defection was significant
because it sent a message to other people at Gaddafi's side that they could
still defect, even if they were associated with the bloody crackdown on
Gaddafi's opponents.

"We encourage those around Gaddafi to abandon him and
embrace a better future for Libya that allows political transition and real
reform that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people," Britain's Foreign
Office said.

However, despite Koussa's influential position, Gaddafi's
innermost circle is made up principally of his sons and people with family
ties, and their loyalty is likely to be more robust.

Geoff Porter, an independent analyst on North Africa who has
testified on Libya in the US Congress, said Koussa's defection was one of the
first signs the Gaddafi elite was fracturing.

"So while [Koussa's] ... departure is a sign that
things are bad in the Gaddafi camp, it is also a sign that the Gaddafi camp
will drift toward extremism, nihilism and acute violence."

Koussa's predecessor Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, a former
UN envoy who renounced the Libyan leadership, told Al Jazeera news channel that
Koussa was the Gaddafi's government's "black box" and with his
defection, it had reached its end.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
told ABC television network she was aware that people close to Gaddafi had been
trying to make contact.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has kept in contact
with Koussa during the mounting crisis in Libya.

Hague told the BBC last month he had called the minister the
previous day "because you still have to communicate to them directly,
personally: this situation is unacceptable".

Earlier on Wednesday, Britain said it was expelling five
Libyan diplomats to protest at Libya's actions and because they could pose a
threat to national security.

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