ROME (AP) " World leaders said Monday the end is near for the regime of Moammar Gadhafi and called on the Libyan leader to relinquish power, as hundreds of Libyans living abroad celebrated in the streets after rebels took control of most of the Libyan capital.
With events unfolding quickly and clashes reported Monday near Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli, leaders across European capitals urged Gadhafi to avoid a bloodbath of his own people and turn himself in to the International Criminal Court.
"The time is up," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Monday. "There is no alternative to surrendering and handing himself in to justice."
"If Gadhafi keeps inciting a civil war, he alone will be responsible for a dramatic bloodbath that we must all try to avert," Frattini told Sky Italia.
France, whose military effort was central to the NATO campaign in Libya " welcomed the rebels' advances. President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement Sunday evening that Gadhafi should "avoid inflicting any more unnecessary suffering on his people by renouncing without delay what is left of his power and by immediately ordering the forces that are still loyal to him to cease fire."
British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a family vacation to chair a meeting of the country's special security committee on Libya. His office said Sunday that it was clear "the end is near for Gadhafi," and called on him to "go now to avoid any further suffering for his own people."
Poland, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, issued a statement saying it "welcomes the end" of Gadhafi's rule.RussiaToday
The comments were echoed in Berlin, where German vice chancellor and Economy Minister Philipp Roesler told reporters: "I hope very much that Gadhafi will be found very quickly, will be caught, and then handed over to the international court, brought very quickly to the Hague."
The International Criminal Court has indicted Gadhafi on charges of crime against humanity, along with one of his sons, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and Libya's intelligence chief. Seif Gadhafi was arrested by rebel forces, while another one of Gadhafi's sons was kept under house arrest.
Frattini said there was no longer room for mediation, including allowing Gadhafi to go into exile or remain in Libya but relinquish power " as had been suggested at various points during the past five months of fighting. NATO began airstrikes in Libya under a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the protection of civilians.
South Africa " which has criticized the NATO bombing and led failed African Union efforts to mediate between the rebels and Gadhafi " insisted it had sent no planes to Libya to evacuate Gadhafi. It said it had received no request from him for asylum, and was involved in no efforts to extricate him.
"I'm quite amazed that there's even an insinuation that we are facilitating evacuation of anyone," said Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. She said that "for sure, he will not ask to come here" and noted that South Africa is an International Criminal Court member " in an apparent implication that South Africa would have to arrest Gadhafi if he arrived there.
The government of Malta, a tiny Mediterranean island close to north Africa, has also denied reports that Gadhafi was headed there.
On Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Gadhafi to accept reality and relinquish power. "The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Moammar Gadhafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end," the president said.
Outside of the country, Libyan expatriates celebrated what they felt was already the end of the regime.
In Ankara, the Turkish capital, dozens of Libyans flocked to the embassy to celebrate the rebels' seizing much of Tripoli. They removed the Gadhafi regime's green flag from a mast and replaced it with the rebels' tricolor one. They grabbed Gadhafi posters from inside the building, smashed or set them on fire as the embassy staff watched. The group, which included women and children, then proceeded to chant and dance as they waved the rebels' flags.
A similar scene occurred in Malta, where some 200 Libyans entered the Libyan embassy on Sunday to hoist the Libyan independence flag while setting fire to pictures of Gadhafi and his green flag. The celebrations continued through the night and were still on Monday morning.
"The celebrations we currently see in Libya, and not least in the streets of Tripoli, all point in one direction: the Libyan people's struggle for freedom has gone into the playoffs," said Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen of Denmark. "It is crucial that the final phase is handled in a dignified manner and that the (opposition) National Transitional Council remains united to manage the transition toward the holding of free elections."
In Russia, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma's international affairs committee, told the Interfax news agency that "the situation for Gaddafi has passed the point of no return."
Moscow has denounced the NATO bombing of forces loyal to Gadhafi, and kept up that criticism Monday. Kosachev called NATO's airstrikes in Sunday night's assault on Tripoli "regrettable" and said this "will cast doubts on the legitimacy of current and future events in the country."
Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Barrington Broadcasting is a member of the AP Network.