* Italy’s Frattini says point of no return reached in Libya
* Welcomes U.N. sanctions, says no-fly zone an option
(adds quotes, background)
By Silvia Aloisi
ROME, Feb 27 (Reuters) - The end of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s rule is “inevitable”, the foreign minister of Italy, his closest European ally, said on Sunday.
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini also said a friendship and cooperation treaty between Libya and Italy was “de facto suspended”.
“We have reached, I believe, a point of no return,” Frattini told Sky Italia television. Asked whether Gaddafi should leave power, he said: “It is inevitable for this to happen.
Frattini said a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes on Gaddafi and his family was an important turning point.
“It allows us to say that the international community is firmly convinced that the regime cannot, in any way, keep carrying out these acts that have caused the death of thousands and thousands of innocent people,” he said.
Asked whether the idea of a no-fly zone to defend rebel enclaves from Gaddafi’s forces was still on the table, Frattini said: “It is a very important option, for example to prevent retaliation through aerial bombings.
“It is an option that would truly lead to an escalation, with an intervention that would be also a military one in Libya, and this is why more time to think it through is needed.”
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government had initially hesitated to condemn violence in Libya, a former Italian colony with which Rome has close business ties.
Berlusconi, who rolled out the red carpet for Gaddafi on several visits to Rome over the past two years, drew fire from the opposition last week for saying he did not want to “disturb” the Libyan leader in the middle of the revolt.
However, Italy has gradually raised its voice in recent days and Frattini’s comments were the clearest indication yet that Rome no longer stood by Gaddafi.
The fallout for Italy of the bloody uprising in Libya could be heavy. Libya supplies around 25 percent of Italy’s oil needs and 12 percent of its gas imports. Its sovereign wealth fund has stakes in Italy’s biggest bank UniCredit and other companies, and Italy’s oil and gas major ENI is the biggest operator in Libya.
Gaddafi was also instrumental in helping Italy stop illegal immigrants trying to reach its shores, and Rome now fears an exodus of up to 300,000 people fleeing the violence.