British Foreign Secretary William Hague visits Benghazi

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague arrived in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Saturday for talks with the opposition's leadership, the Foreign Office said.

Hague, who is accompanied by international development minister Andrew Mitchell, will meet with Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chief of the rebel National Transitional Council, it said in a statement from London.

"We are here today for one principal reason -- to show our support for the Libyan people and for the National Transitional Council, the legitimate representative of the Libyan people," Hague said in the statement.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman confirmed to AFP that Hague had arrived in the key eastern city, from where the rebel council is running its campaign against Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Hague's trip to Benghazi comes just hours after British Apache helicopters attacked forces loyal to Kadhafi in their first operations as part of the NAT0 air campaign against the veteran strongman.

He said that during his talks with Jalil he would discuss the situation on the ground and next week's meeting in Abu Dhabi of the international contact group on Libya.

"Britain remains a strong and true friend of Libya," Hague said.

"We could not and did not turn a blind eye when Kadhafi turned his forces against innocent civilians. For as long as Kadhafi continues to abuse his people, we will continue and intensify our efforts to stop him.

"We are here together as part of a coordinated and strategic approach to Libya -- ensuring that our military, diplomatic and development actions are aligned.

"The UK is committed to this task. Colonel Kadhafi is isolated internationally and domestically. He has lost all legitimacy, continues to abuse human rights without mercy or compunction. He must go."

Mitchell said he would announce support for mine-clearing work in Libya "preventing the indiscriminate killing of many men, women and children."

Last month British Prime Minister David Cameron invited the NTC to open an office in London, their first in a foreign country.

The defence ministry said British Apache helicopters had on Friday attacked a radar station and a checkpoint operated by Kadhafi's forces in the strategic oil town of Brega, also in eastern Libya.

© 2011 AFP

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