* Powerful Libyan envoy says gave up on mediation
* Expects Italian contracts with Libya to be reconfirmed
By Deepa Babington
ROME, May 31 (Reuters) - The days are numbered for Muammar Gaddafi’s rule and a diplomatic solution for his exit is no longer an option, according to an internationally prominent Libyan diplomat who has defected. Hafed Gaddur, Tripoli’s longtime envoy to former colonial ruler Rome, was well-known in Italy as a powerful Gaddafi associate who had Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on speed dial and brokered multi-billion dollar deals between the two nations.
“Gaddafi’s regime is over,” Gaddur said in an interview under the frescoed ceilings of the Libyan embassy in Rome, which now flies the rebel tricolour. “There are no more diplomatic solutions for him. It’s just a question of time now.”
Horrified at Gaddafi’s violent crackdown on peaceful protests, he said he threw his weight behind the rebels on Feb. 25. He cut off all ties with Tripoli in April after deciding Gaddafi would never agree to a diplomatic solution for his exit.
Until then, he says he worked behind the scenes with other defected Libyan diplomats in hope of brokering a deal for Gaddafi’s exit. Gaddur was forced to forego his own mother’s funeral in Tripoli in March because of his activity.
In late April, when it became clear that a diplomatic solution to the Libyan crisis was impossible, Gaddur says he sent a telegram to Tripoli declaring he no longer represented Gaddafi and raised the rebel tricolour at his embassy.
“It became clear to me when I lost hope that I could be useful as a mediator,” Gaddur, who has only returned to the public eye in recent days, sporting a rebel tricolour pin.
A growing number of defections -- including eight military officers who appeared in Rome at an Italian government-organzed news conference on Monday -- showed how quickly Gaddafi’s system was weakening, said Gaddur, who also appeared at the event.
At least eight Libyan ambassadors in Europe have openly defected, and many more are unofficially working with the rebel movement but could not openly declare their allegiance to avoid complicating efforts to help the insurgents, he said.
“There are many more diplomats we expect will announce their defection in the coming days,” he said, adding that envoys to Portugal, Malta, Germany, France, Brussels, Austria and Switzerland had all defected to the rebel side.
”Those fighting for Gaddafi (on the ground) now are not fighting for Gaddafi but are defending themselves. They are defending themselves from the crimes they have committed.
After his telegram in April, Gaddur says he did not wait for a response from Tripoli -- he had already cut off the fax line for diplomatic cables from the Libyan capital.
All his staff agreed to stay on the rebel side, apart from a Gaddafi nephew who worked as a consular diplomat in the embassy but left for Tripoli when the uprising began, he said.
With Italy one of a handful of countries that has recognized the Benghazi-based rebels as the legitimate representative of Libyans, Gaddur remains a key player with contacts on both sides as Italy looks to develop its ties with the rebel movement.
Despite fierce anti-colonial rhetoric from Gaddafi, Italy and Libya have maintained close ties through the decades. Italy agreed to a $5 billion reparations deal in 2008 and Libya has since bought stakes in blue-chip Italian companies.
Gaddur said he expected all contracts struck between Italy and Libya -- including multi-billion dollar deals with companies like Finmeccanica and others -- to be reconfirmed by a new Libyan government when Gaddafi’s regime ends.
“These are contracts struck between two states, so they will be reconfirmed when Libya is liberated,” he said.
Editing by Mark Heinrich