* NATO questions reports Gaddafi seeking way out
* Repeats call for Libyan leader to step down
* NATO chief says Gaddafi son should not replace him
By David Brunnstrom
BRUSSELS, July 6 (Reuters) - The head of NATO said on Wednesday he had no confirmed information Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was looking for a way to step down after more than four months fighting a rebellion and sustained Western bombing.
A Russian newspaper on Tuesday quoted a high-level Russian official as saying Gaddafi was sounding out the possibility of stepping down in return for a political future for his son Saif.
“I have no confirmed information that Gaddafi has sounded out the possibility to step down, but it is quite clear that the end state must be that he leaves power,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who held meetings this week with Russian leaders, told a news conference.
According to the Russian report, Gaddafi wanted his son Saif al-Islam, who along with his father faces an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, to be permitted to run in elections if Gaddafi stepped down.
Rasmussen said Libya’s future must be decided by its people, possibly in cooperation with the international community, but signaled Western powers would oppose a role for Saif.
“His place should be in The Hague, not in Tripoli,” he said, referring to the headquarters of the ICC.
Rasmussen said Western forces were making progress in diminishing Gaddafi’s ability to strike civilians during a bloody rebellion against his rule that started in February, and said rebel forces had made some advances.
He said it was “game over” for Gaddafi given the damage NATO had done to his military, the defection of generals and ministers, and the loss of international support.
But Gaddafi remained a threat and continued to shell city streets indiscriminately and NATO would continue its operation until there was a political solution to the conflict, he added.
Rasmussen declined to say if NATO would keep bombing during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in August, but said the alliance had a U.N. mandate to protect civilians and “would hope the Gaddafi regime would stop attacking and bombing its own people during Ramadan.”
Rasmussen said NATO had struck over 2,700 targets since taking over air strikes on March 31, including more than 600 tanks and artillery pieces and 800 ammunition stores and bunkers.
“Gaddafi’s war machine has been considerably degraded,” he said. “As regards the opposition forces, we have seen progress; they have advanced in recent weeks but of course we don’t know for sure how far they can advance.”
On Wednesday, rebel forces advanced towards Tripoli from the east, in the biggest push in weeks towards the capital. [ID:LDE7650SQ]
Rasmussen confirmed that he and ambassadors of the 28 NATO states would meet Libyan rebel leaders next week in Brussels. [ID:nLDE7640V9] (Editing by Peter Cooney)