Sarkozy to meet Libyan opposition envoys

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy will on Thursday meet two envoys from Libya's opposition seeking help against strongman Moamer Kadhafi, whose forces are trying to crush the popular uprising.

Mahmud Jibril and Ali al-Essawi of Libya's rebel national council will discuss "the general situation in Libya, in particular the humanitarian situation and the action of Libya's national transition council," the French presidency announced on Wednesday.

It will be the first meeting of a head of state with representatives of the Libyan opposition and comes on the eve of an emergency European Union summit in Brussels convened over the Libyan crisis.

Sarkozy has repeatedly called for Kadhafi to quit power in the face of the pro-democracy uprising in the north African country, where fighting has increased between the rebels and forces loyal to the regime.

On Sunday Paris hailed the creation of the opposition's national council and expressed support for its principles and goals.

France hopes to help the council politically, the president's Elysee office said.

France's initiative contrasts with the reticence expressed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who along with European lawmakers met the two opposition envoys this week.

But on Wednesday in Strasbourg Ashton refused to back demands that the opposition's council be recognised as the only legitimate authority in Libya, as urged by the European Parliament.

Ashton also declined to state what actions were envisioned to prevent Kadhafi from crushing the insurrection, an issue that has divided EU member states.

"There can be a debate on that," the French presidency said, adding that Ashton "has adopted a position, ours goes much further."

Meanwhile, Portugal is to receive late Wednesday in Lisbon an envoy from embattled Kadhafi who earlier held talks with Malta's leader.

Foreign Minister Luis Amado "has agreed to meet a Libyan envoy today at the latter's request, so as to be informed about the situation in Libya," the ministry said in a statement to AFP.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini also said Wednesday Libyan government emissaries may be en route to Brussels to meet European representatives.

"Two planes belonging to the Libyan regime have apparently left Libya headed for Brussels with emissaries of Kadhafi to meet with representatives of the EU and NATO countries meeting tomorrow and the day after tomorrow," he said.

In Greece, a foreign ministry statement said junior foreign minister Dimitris Dollis would meet with a Libyan envoy early Thursday.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou whose country has long had close ties with Libya, its neighbour to the south, spoke with Kadhafi late Tuesday by telephone.

Papandreou urged Kadhafi to help resolve the crisis peacefully.

France along with Britain has also been working on a proposed UN Security Council resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

France's strong position on the Libyan crisis follows a barrage of criticism over its handling of recent popular uprisings that ousted former "friends" of Paris, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

© 2011 AFP

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