Official: Leaders of France, UK to visit Libya

By Elaine Ganley

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 14 2011 2:30 p.m. MDT

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron leaves Downing Street in London, to attend the weekly Prime Ministers Questions in Parliament, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011.

Kirsty Wigglesworth, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

PARIS — The leaders of France and Britain will make a quick visit to Libya on Thursday, an official with Libya's governing body said, becoming the first foreign heads of government to travel to the country in the post-Moammar Gadhafi era.

There was no official confirmation of the visit by the offices of President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"Our policy is never to comment on the prime minister's schedule," a spokesman for Cameron said on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Suleiman Fortia, a representative of the Libyan city of Misrata to the National Transitional Council, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the two leaders were expected to visit.

France and Britain pressed for NATO action to protect civilians against Gadhafi's troops, and a French aircraft was the first to fly in the air campaign over Libya. France was the first country to recognize the council, known as the NTC, the closest thing to a government that Libya currently has.

"Those who helped us, we are so happy to receive them as the first leaders to come," Fortia said by telephone from Tripoli.

Sarkozy and Cameron will visit Benghazi and Tripoli, according to Fortia. "We also invite them to visit Misrata because this is the place which showed Gadhafi how Libya is strong," he said. He added that he did not know whether the invitation would be accepted during Thursday's trip.

"We will invite them and hope this will be on their agenda."

The western port city of Misrata was a stronghold of the revolt against Gadhafi's 42-year-long rule, playing a central role in the war. The former rebels swept into the capital Aug. 21.

Gadhafi is being hunted down but numerous close family members have fled to neighboring Algeria and to Niger.

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who played an active role in Sarkozy's early stance on the side of the rebels who rose up against Gadhafi, was expected to travel to Libya, too, during the leaders' visit.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also expected to visit Libya this week.

David Stringer in London contributed to this report.

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