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UK, French leaders give strong support to Libya

By Ryan Lucas

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 15 2011 9:16 a.m. MDT

Leader of Libya's interim government, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil shakes hands with with an unidentified injured man while French President Nicolas Sarkozy, center, and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, right, look on in the Tripoli Medical center, Tripoli Thursday Sept.15, 2011. British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Tripoli on Thursday, the first heads of government to visit Libya since revolutionary forces seized the capital, a major endorsement for the North African nation's new rulers. Cameron and Sarkozy planned to meet with the leaders of the National Transitional Council, the closest thing Libya's new rulers have to a functioning government, to discuss aid to help the transition to democracy after four decades of authoritarian rule by fugitive leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Eric Feferberg, Pool, Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya — British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave Libya's new rulers strong support during a landmark visit to Tripoli on Thursday, vowing to release billions of dollars more in frozen assets and to push ahead with NATO strikes against Moammar Gadhafi's last strongholds.

Cameron told the fugitive Libyan leader and his backers, "It is over. Give up."

The two were the first world leaders to travel to Tripoli since revolutionary forces, backed by NATO airstrikes, swept into the capital on Aug. 21 and forced Gadhafi into hiding. The visit aimed to give a significant boost to the National Transitional Council, the body of former rebels that is widely recognized as the new leadership but faces a major struggle in establishing its authority.

At a press conference alongside NTC chief Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and the NTC's prime minister Mahmoud Jibril, Cameron and Sarkozy both expressed their backing for the council. Cameron said he would push for the release to the NTC of billions of dollars in Libyan assets that had been frozen to punish Gadhafi's regime. To that end, he announced Britain and France would introduce a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Friday authorizing the release of all Libyan assets.

"We have already unfrozen a billion pounds ($1.6 billion) worth of assets, but if we can pass the U.N. resolution that we will be putting forward with France tomorrow, there's a further 12 billion ($18 billion) of assets in the U.K. alone that we will be looking to unfreeze," he said.

Cameron also pledged the NATO mission would continue as Gadhafi loyalists are still battling revolutionary forces on three fronts in central and southern Libya. "There are still parts of Libya under Gadhafi's control, Gadhafi is still at large, and we must make sure this work is completed," he said.

He called on Gadhafi to surrender, saying "it is time for him to give himself up and time for Libyan people get the justice they deserve by seeing him face justice."

Britain and France led international support for the rebellion and their countries were major contributors to NATO airstrikes that helped turn the tide in favor of the opposition.

All that support could put France and Britain in a good position to cash in on lucrative trade and oil business once the country gets on its feet, but Sarkozy denied that was the goal.

"We ask for no preference with respect to Libyan assets or resources. What we did we did without a hidden agenda, but because we wanted to help Libya," Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy also said Gadhafi and others who "committed crimes" will be brought to justice but urged Libyans to avoid "vengeance" and seek unity and reconciliation.

The NTC and an executive committee it created are largely made up of technocrats — some of whom were once would-be reformers in Gadhafi's regime who grew disillusioned and left — and representatives from town and cities around the country. It not only faces the task of winning control over the last Gadhafi strongholds, it also must rein in the numerous armed groups and factions under the former rebel umbrella.

The flow of more of the frozen funds from abroad could boost its hand.

So far, the U.N. has approved the unblocking of about $6 billion from banks in the United States, Britain and France. A Cameron spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with policy, said a new United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the release of all frozen Libyan assets has support of all five permanent members. Analysts estimate that as much as $110 billion is frozen in banks worldwide.

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