Britain expels Libyan ambassador after embassy attacks

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Britain expelled the Libyan ambassador Sunday following attacks on the British and Italian embassies in Tripoli, saying Moamer Kadhafi's regime had failed in its duty to protect diplomatic missions.

Protesters set fire to the buildings, which are on the same street in central Tripoli, early on Sunday, an AFP reporter said, adding that the mob at the Italian embassy ripped down the Italian flag and threw it into the street.

Britain and Italy are both involved in military strikes against Libya as part of a UN-authorised operation to protect civilians from fierce fighting between Kadhafi's forces and rebels opposed to his four-decade rule.

"I condemn the attacks on the British embassy premises in Tripoli as well as the diplomatic missions of other countries," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

"The Vienna Convention requires the Kadhafi regime to protect diplomatic missions in Tripoli. By failing to do so that regime has once again breached its international responsibilities and obligations.

"I take the failure to protect such premises very seriously indeed.

"As a result, I have taken the decision to expel the Libyan ambassador. He is persona non grata pursuant to article nine of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and has 24 hours to leave the country."

The embassy attacks and the expulsion of ambassador Omar Jelban came just hours after the Libyan regime accused NATO of killing Kadhafi's son and three grandchildren in bombing raids on Saturday evening.

Britain's embassy was thought to be empty at the time, as London has had no diplomatic presence in Tripoli since it recalled its ambassador at the start of hostilities. The only British team is in the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

The Italian embassy was also thought to be empty, as Rome closed down the diplomatic post in March.

In a statement, the Italian foreign ministry confirmed the "acts of vandalism", saying the attacks were "grave and vile actions".

"Kadhafi's regime, by not ensuring the necessary protection for foreign diplomatic missions in Tripoli, has again failed in its basic international obligations," it said.

Italy only joined the military operation against its former colony last week, almost six weeks after the campaign began with strikes by Britain, France and the United States.

Hague stressed that the embassy attacks "will not weaken our resolve to protect the civilian population in Libya".

Italy was Libya's top foreign trade partner before the conflict began, and Kadhafi signed a friendship treaty with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2008, which opened the way for massive investments in each other's economies.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Sunday that the government was boosting security checks after Kadhafi threatened retaliation for Rome's entry into the military campaign.

"Kadhafi's words confirm that we have to monitor the situation. It's what we are doing and we have intensified monitoring on our territory," he said.


© 2011 AFP

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