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EU prepared to open diplomatic office in Tripoli

(AP)
Filed on August 24, 2011

BRUSSELS The European Union is ready to open a diplomatic mission in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, as soon as it deems it safe to do so, officials said Tuesday.

The EU is also exploring ways to unfreeze billions of dollars in Libyan assets as quickly as possible to help rebuild the economy, restore essential services, reform the police and the army, and pay the salaries of a government headed by the rebel group now known as the National Transitional Council, said Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief.

“It’s a country that has a huge number of assets,” Ashton said. “It’s a rich country.”

Ashton said she did not anticipate Libya needing financial aid. Rather, she said, the EU will work to ensure the new government has the proper checks in place to ensure that the money is used to pay salaries and provide services.

Turkey’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Western leaders will take up the issue of the possible release of frozen Libyan assets at a meeting this week in Istanbul.

Ahmet Davutoglu said the money should be released rapidly for “the service of the Libyan people” to help the country rebuild in the post-Moammar Gaddafi era.

The minister was in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi for talks with the head of the rebel National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, before a meeting in Istanbul on Thursday between diplomats from the “contact group” of nations involved in efforts to stabilize Libya.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, meanwhile, called for the U.N. Security Council to quickly pass a new resolution to unblock the money. Germany alone has frozen (euro) 7.3 billion of Libyan money while Britain has frozen about 12 billion pounds ($20 billion).

Last month, Turkey’s banking regulatory body froze a Libyan Bank’s holdings in the country, taking control of the Libyan Foreign Bank’s 62 percent stake in Turkey’s Arap-Turk Bankasi A.S.

Ashton said that ensuring the country is safe and stable will also be a priority. “People feeling secure in the country is fundamental to the future,” she said.

Toward that end, the EU will work with the new government to devise a way to collect the large number of weapons that are in private hands throughout the country as a result of the civil war, another EU official said.

“There are too many guns. There are too many people with Kalashnikovs,” said the official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of EU rules.

In addition, supplies of food, water, electricity and fuel all need to be restored, the official said. Order needs to maintained and the country’s borders secured, he added.

The diplomatic mission will be headed, in its early stage, by Agostino Miozzo, the EU’s managing director for crisis response. The EU’s diplomatic mission in Benghazi, opened to establish ties with the rebels, will remain open for the moment.

At the moment, Hungary is the only European Union country to maintain a diplomatic mission in Tripoli.

Turkish officials said this week’s meeting would seek ways of assisting the opposition in the transition toward democracy, including releasing frozen assets. France’s foreign ministry said the Istanbul meeting would prepare for a foreign ministers’ meeting in Paris next week.

Also Tuesday, Oman and Bahrain recognized Libya’s rebel-led council as the country’s legitimate international representatives, becoming the latest Arab nations to break off relations with Gaddafi’s regime in favor of the National Transitional Council.

A statement by Oman’s Foreign Ministry urged Libyan rebels to keep the country from drifting into lawlessness as opposition forces move against Gaddafi’s last strongholds in the capital Tripoli.

The official Bahrain News Agency says the kingdom expressed hopes that the rebel council can lead Libya to stability and reconstruction.

Meanwhile, Prague was the latest world capital to have a flag torn down at a Libyan embassy and replaced by one symbolizing the rebel movement. Staff even burned it and threw the remains away.

“We don’t like it. We hate it because it is the flag of this dictator,” Nuri E. O. Eighawi, the charge d’affaires, told the AP inside the compound, calling the flag a “bad memory.”

He predicted Gaddafi would not hold on to power beyond Friday and described the government in Tripoli as running away and virtually nonexistent.

“I wish we will catch him — and not to kill,” he added, hoping that Gaddafi will be tried by a Libyan court as opposed to an international one.


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