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UK, French leaders to visit Libya

Agencies | Updated: 2011-09-15 15:43

TRIPOLI - The French and British leaders will visit Libya on Thursday to congratulate the new rulers they helped install, but families fleeing besieged bastions of ousted strongman Muammar Gadhafi are a reminder that peace is still far off.

The visit will be a victory lap for Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, who defied doubters at home to lead a NATO bombing campaign that succeeded in ushering in a victory by forces who swept away Gadhafi's 42-year rule last month.

Both leaders are hugely popular on the streets of Libya, where "Merci Sarkozy" and "Thank you Britain" are common graffiti slogans. Both may hope to earn political dividends back home from what now appears to have been a successful bet.

But on the eve of their visit, the leader of Libya's National Transitional Council said heavy battles lie ahead against Gadhafi loyalists who have refused to surrender.

NTC Vice Chairman Abdel Hafiz Ghogo told Reuters the two leaders would visit both Tripoli and Benghazi, where the NTC rulers are still based even though Gadhafi opponents seized the capital more than three weeks ago.  

Western countries and neighbours are anxious to welcome Libya into the international community, not least so it can restart lucrative oil production frozen by six months of war.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is expected in Libya on Friday. Egypt's foreign minister, Mohammed Kamel Amr, is also due to visit. A US assistant secretary of state visited on Wednesday.

Libya's new leaders say the international community has been slow to release frozen assets; diplomats said on Wednesday Britain had circulated a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council to ease sanctions against Libya's National Oil Corp (NOC) and central bank and hoped for a vote this week.

NOC chairman Nouri Berouin told Reuters Libya would start exporting crude oil from the eastern port of Tobruk within ten days and could produce 1 million barrels a day within six months.  

But the failure to capture Gadhafi, and ongoing fighting in and around besieged towns still firmly held by the ousted leader's supporters, are proof that a peaceful and prosperous future for Libya is far from assured.

The European Union on Wednesday demanded an end to arbitrary killings and detentions by both sides, and especially to vigilante attacks on sub-Saharan Africans and black Libyans, who are widely accused of having fought for Gadhafi.

Fight "far from the end"

Gadhafi has not been seen in public since June. In a letter read out on Syria-based Arrai TV he called on the UN Security Council to protect his hometown of Sirte - still held by forces loyal to him - from what he called NATO "atrocities".  

"If Sirte is isolated from the rest of the world in order for atrocities to be committed against it, then the world has a duty not to be absent," Gadhafi was quoted as saying.

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