Libya's new leaders welcome Cameron, Sarkozy

15th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's David Cameron and France's Nicolas Sarkozy, whose forces spearheaded the NATO campaign that helped topple Moamer Kadhafi, vowed more support Wednesday as they became the first foreign leaders to visit the new Libya.

The two men flew in separately to Tripoli's Metiga airport for a lightning visit to the Libyan capital which was captured from Kadhafi's forces only a few weeks ago.

The number two in the National Transitional Council, Mahmud Jibril, welcomed them at the airport from where they were taken by helicopter to the Tripoli Medical Centre where they were given a heroes' welcome for their role in ending the fugitive strongman's 42 years of iron-fisted rule.

Jubilant crowds of medical staff thronged forward to shake the two leaders' hands, chanting: "Thank you, thank you", as they toured three of the hospital's wards.

When asked if he was pleased by the reception, the French president told reporters: "It's not about being pleased. It's extremely moving to see young Arabs turn towards these two great Western countries to say: 'Thank you'.

"This proves that conflict between the West and the Middle East is by no means an inevitability," Sarkozy added.

In the orthopaedic ward, the two leaders spoke to rebel fighters and Libyans injured in the battle for Tripoli, as well as patients recovering from torture in Gaddafi's prison cells.

Dr Mahmud Abu Hafez told the British prime minister that all of Tripoli's hospitals were swamped with casualties as the fighting raged but the situation now was "fairly safe".

"We have many victims of sniper bullets and some hit by anti-aircraft guns," said Dr Hafez.

"We have the doctors, nurses and medicines here for primary care and surgery but we have many amputations of legs and arms, and these people will need to go abroad for rehabilitation, artificial limbs and psychological assessment."

Cameron was expected to announced that up to 50 places would be provided at British hospitals for Libyans needing advanced surgery, prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation for severe injuries.

He was also expected to announce 600,000 pounds (950,000 dollars) in British aid for mine clearance and the deployment of a military liaison team to help the new authorities locate, secure and disable Manpad shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles.

From the hospital, the two leaders went to the capital's Corinthia Hotel for private talks with Jibril and Libya's interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil at Tripoli's Corinthia hospital.

AFP correspondents reported the hotel was cordoned off from before dawn in a massive security operation assisted by French police officers.

Abdel Jalil earlier gave assurances in a BBC interview that Tripoli had been sufficiently secured since its capture from Kadhafi forces for the visit to go ahead.

"We say to the leaders coming tomorrow (Thursday) that they will be safe," he said.

Abdel Jalil appealed for new weapons deliveries to help capture Kadhafi's last remaining bastions and complete his country's liberation.

He said many of Kadhafi's remaining forces had now massed in the far south, particularly in the region's largest city Sabha, and said the NTC needed more arms to defeat them.

"There will be fierce battles in Sabha with equipment that we do not yet have, and we ask for more equipment to retake these places," he told the BBC.

Cameron and Sarkozy were only expected to stay a few hours in Tripoli before flying on to Libya's second-largest city Benghazi, the rebels' base during their seven-month uprising.

Aides of the French president said he would give a speech in the eastern city's Tahrir (Freedom) Square, which has become an emblem of the rebellion launched by its residents before spreading across the country.

The British prime minister was expected to announce the last tranche of one billion pounds (1.58 billion dollars) in unfrozen Kadhafi assets would be handed over to the new Libyan authorities soon.

The two leaders were accompanied by their foreign ministers, William Hague and Alain Juppe.

© 2011 AFP

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