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Is Jacob Zuma Qaddafi's only hope?

The South African leader is going to bat for Muammar Qaddafi after a bad couple of weeks for the Libyan strongman.

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But Zuma, who helped craft an African Union plan that called for an end to the war with Qaddafi still in power, continues to publicly stand with the man he fondly calls "brother leader." That's not entirely surprising, since Qaddafi has been one of the principle financial backers of the African Union, and provided crucial financial support to the African National Congress, who led the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

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Nelson Mandela was also fond of Qaddafi, and devoted much of the final months of his presidency in 1999 to rehabilitating Qaddafi's international image. Mr. Mandela helped negotiate Libya's handover of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent later convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. That handover saw international sanctions on Libya lifted. Qaddafi's first full state visit after that was to South Africa. "Those who feel irritated by our friendship with President Qaddafi can go and jump in a pool," Mandela said at the time.

This history makes it clear why Zuma isn't an appropriate mediator. The Libyan rebels see him as wholly in Qaddafi's camp, and his forays to Tripoli as doing more harm than good, since they have the effect of demonstrating support for a man reviled by most of the world as a dictator.

For the rebels, it's been overall a very good couple of weeks. In addition to Italy's financial support and the hardening of Russia's public stance, they also won control of Misurata, the largest city they hold outside eastern Libya, which is more or less entirely under their control. Misurata had endured withering rocket and mortar barrages for months. Though there is still fighting near the city, the rebels with NATO support finally pushed Qaddafi's men out of mortar range of the city last week.

NATO action has severely degraded Qaddafi's military, and continues. Yesterday in Rome, five of Qaddafi's generals who defected last week gave a press conference, and one estimated that Libya's army is now about 20 percent of what it was when the fighting began.

Well, at least Qaddafi still has Zuma on his side.

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