Libyan rebels to open London office: British PM

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British premier David Cameron Thursday invited Libya's rebels to open an office in London, their first in a foreign country, in a highly symbolic step for the movement as it battles Moamer Kadhafi.

Cameron made the offer in a meeting with Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the leader of the rebel National Transitional Council, after Libyan strongman Kadhafi was shown on television 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 Jalil.

Britain will also boost its diplomatic team in the rebel bastion of Benghazi and supply several million pounds worth of equipment to police in opposition-held areas, including bulletproof vests, Cameron said.

It will also help the rebels set up an independent radio station.

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."

Jalil, who last month held talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said he had come to London to thank Britain for its "discipline and moral stand".

"This stand was not based on any benefit that the British government may derive from this support, it is a humanitarian position. I assure you that you will never regret taking this stand," he said.

He also invited Cameron to visit Libya.

Jalil will also meet 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.

Cameron said the NTC was "the legitimate political interlocutor" in Libya, and Britain's "primary partner" there.

"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.

Britain's move stops short of full diplomatic recognition for the NTC. France, Italy, Qatar and Gambia have already recognised the rebel council as the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

The Foreign Office said that the rebel office in London would "not be a diplomatic mission and therefore they will not have diplomatic immunity or privileges."

"The UK recognises states not governments," a Foreign Office spokesman told AFP.

A British government source said staff at the rebel office would receive certain "administrative concessions" on minor issues -- for example access to parking spaces.

Around 200 supporters of the Libyan rebels held a small demonstration opposite Downing Street, waving opposition green, black and red flags and chanting "freedom, freedom" and "Kadhafi stop the massacre."

Jalil's visit comes after he attended talks in Rome aimed at helping to fund the Libyan rebel movement, which 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 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 April 30 air strike that the regime said targeted him and killed his son Seif al-Arab and three of his grandchildren.

The television said the footage was of a meeting between Kadhafi and eastern tribal leaders.

© 2011 AFP

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