CNN Wire Staff
London (CNN) - The surprise arrival Wednesday of a tall, gray-haired man at a small airport outside of London raised eyebrows - and it also raised hopes of a breakthrough on many fronts.
The man on the plane was Moussa Koussa, Libya's foreign minister and former intelligence chief, and he was defecting from the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, the highest-ranking official yet to do so.
Koussa was a stalwart defender of the government as recently as a month ago. But in recent weeks, his demeanor has visibly changed. At one recent media briefing, he kept his head down as he read a statement and left early.
He did not tell the Libyan government he was planning to quit before he arrived in Britain, Libyan government spokesman Mousa Ibrahim said Thursday.
But Ibrahim downplayed the defection itself, saying Moussa was an old man in poor health who had not been able to handle the pressure of his job.
"We gave him permission to leave," Ibrahim said, less than 24 hours after Libyan government denials that Koussa had defected, and insisted he was coming back.
The British Foreign Office announced late Wednesday that Koussa had resigned and come willingly to the United Kingdom.
There's debate about whether his departure from Tripoli will weaken Gadhafi, with some saying it will be a signal to other doubters around Libya's leader that it's time to jump ship.
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