British PM invites Libyan rebels to open London office

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British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday invited the Libyan rebel council to open an office in London after talks with its leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil.

It would be the National Transitional Council's first foreign diplomatic mission and a highly symbolic step in the rebels' fight against Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who was shown on television Wednesday for the first time in nearly two weeks.

"The government is today inviting the council to establish a formal office here in London," Cameron said after the talks in Downing Street, his first face-to-face discussions with the rebel leader.

The prime minister also said Britain was boosting its diplomatic team in the rebel-controlled city of Benghazi, including by adding a new special representative to the council.

In addition, "we are now completing plans to transfer several million pounds worth of equipment to the police in Benghazi. We will also provide new support to improve the council's public broadcasting capacities," Cameron said.

Addressing Jalil, he said: "These steps signal our very clear intent to work with you and your colleagues to ensure that Libya has a safe and stable future, free from the tyranny of the Kadhafi regime."

Cameron said it was "impossible to imagine a real future for Libya with Kadhafi in power and we will continue to support the development of an open, democratic and free Libya".

"Just as Kadhafi can have no part in the political transition that lies ahead, it is clear that the National Transitional Council will play a leading role," he said.

The NTC was "the legitimate political interlocutor" in Libya, and Britain's "primary partner" there, Cameron said. Previously Britain has described the council only as a legitimate interlocutor.

The rebel council was getting stronger with each week that passed, "while the regime is getting weaker", he said.

Jalil will also meet Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague and finance minister George Osborne to study measures agreed at last week's meeting in Rome of key nations involved in efforts to support the rebels.

Jalil's visit to London comes after similar trips in April to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome.

France, Italy, Qatar and Gambia have already recognised the rebel NTC, based in Benghazi, as the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

The Rome talks aimed at helping to fund the Libyan rebel movement featured US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

It was the second meeting of the International Contact Group for Libya after the first in Qatar last month. The group includes all the nations taking part in the NATO-led campaign against Kadhafi's regime.

The talks in London on Thursday will also deal with details of the Transitional Financial Mechanism, an instrument set up by the Contact Group to "provide essential services to the people of Libya" and which becomes operational immediately.

Jalil, accompanied by colleagues from the council, was due to give a press conference at the Foreign Office in London at 1400 GMT.

Hague meanwhile repeated Britain's demand for Kadhafi to stand down, and accused the long-serving leader of "brutalising" his own people.

The rebels marked their first significant advance in weeks Wednesday when they captured the strategic airport in the western city of Misrata after a bloody fight with Kadhafi's troops.

Libyan state TV late Wednesday showed footage of Kadhafi in a meeting, his first appearance since an air strike that the regime said killed Kadhafi's son Seif al-Arab and three of his grandchildren.

It said the footage was of a meeting between Kadhafi and eastern tribal leaders. Libyan officials said the April 30 air strike was an assassination attempt on their leader.

© 2011 AFP

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