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PARIS, March 24 (Reuters) - It may take a coalition of Western powers days or weeks to destroy Muammar Gaddafi's military, but it will not require months, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Thursday.
Western warplanes hit Libya for a fifth night on Thursday, but have so far failed to stop Gaddafi's tanks shelling rebel-held towns or dislodge his armour from a strategic junction in the east.
"The destruction of Gaddafi's military capacity is a matter of days or weeks, certainly not months," Juppe told reporters.
He also defended the pace of the operation, adding: "You can't expect us to achieve our objective in just five days."
France spearheaded the U.N.-mandated intervention aimed at halting Gaddafi's counter-offensive against rebel forces who want to end 41 years of authoritarian rule.
Paris is now pushing, along with Britain, for the setting up of a contact group -- to be made up of the main countries involved in the operation and others including Arab nations that back it -- to discuss political governance and strategy for the mission, while NATO runs day-to-day military coordination.
Juppe said Arab leaders needed to understand that the tide of protests sweeping the region would change things for good and that all countries, including Saudi Arabia, needed to take into account the aspirations of the Arab people.
"The process going on in the Arab world is irreversible. People's aspirations must be taken into consideration everywhere, including in Saudi Arabia," he said. (Reporting by John Irish)