Britain recognises Libya rebels, expels Kadhafi envoys

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Britain recognised Libya's rebel council as the country's sole legitimate government Wednesday after dramatically expelling all remaining staff loyal to Moamer Kadhafi from the London embassy.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had invited the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) to take over the embassy and appoint an official envoy in a major boost for the movement fighting Kadhafi's regime.

A group of rebel supporters unfurled the red, black and green flag of the Libyan opposition outside the embassy after Hague's announcement, although the Kadhafi regime's green flag was still flying from the building itself.

"The prime minister and I have decided that the United Kingdom recognises and will deal with the National Transitional Council as the sole governmental authority in Libya," Hague told a news conference in London.

"We are inviting the National Transitional Council to appoint a new Libyan diplomatic envoy to take over the Libyan embassy in London."

He added: "In line with that decision we summoned the Libyan charge d'affaires to the Foreign Office today and informed him that he and the other regime diplomats from the Kadhafi regime must leave the UK."

"We no longer recognise them as the representatives of the Libyan government."

Britain would also unlock £91 million ($149 million, 102 million euros) of Libyan oil assets frozen under a UN Security Council resolution so that the rebels could benefit from them, Hague said.

"This will help to ensure that the crucial provision of fuel is maintained. We will work hard with our international partners in the coming weeks to unfreeze further Libyan assets."

Britain is one of the lead nations in a NATO-led alliance that has been carrying out an aerial campaign against Kadhafi's regime since March, when the UN approved action to protect civilians.

Britain's move comes nearly two weeks after the Libya contact group, a group of major Western and regional powers, recognised the the NTC as Libya's legitimate government.

On Monday Hague reiterated Britain's demands for Kadhafi to step down but said the Libyan leader may be allowed to remain in the North African country in an apparent shift in London's position.

Britain expelled Libya's ambassador in May after attacks on the British embassy in Tripoli, and has also already kicked out several other diplomats including the military attache.

It has no diplomatic representation in Tripoli but a Foreign Office special representative is based in Benghazi, the eastern city which is home to the NTC.

"We will deal with the NTC on the same basis as other governments around the world," Hague said.

"We are dealing with them as if they are the state of Libya.

"This decision reflects the National Transitional Council's increasing legitimacy, competence and success in reaching out to Libyans across the country."

He said its actions contrasted with those of Kadhafi, "whose brutality against the Libyan people has stripped him of all legitimacy."

The London embassy, known under Kadhafi's regime as the Libyan People's Bureau, has had a chequered history. A British policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher, was shot from the embassy in 1984 while policing a peaceful demonstration there.

Hague was meanwhile scathing about the "pretty worthless" medical advice that allowed the freeing of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, who appeared at a rally in support of Kadhafi on Tuesday.

Megrahi, 59, who has terminal cancer, was released from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds in August 2009. He is the only man convicted over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which killed 270 people, mostly US nationals.

"The appearance of Mr al-Megrahi on our television screens is a further reminder that a great mistake was made when he was released. This was absolutely the wrong thing to do," Hague said.

© 2011 AFP

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