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World leaders gather to discuss Libya transition

In Paris, delegates from more than 60 nations back continued NATO airstrikes and the unfreezing of Libyan assets.

September 02, 2011|By Devorah Lauter and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton greets French President Nicolas Sarkozy before the Libya conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton greets French President… (Michel Euler, Associated…)

Reporting from Paris and Tripoli, Libya — World leaders and delegations from more than 60 nations gathered Thursday in Paris to build international support for Libya's transition to democracy after the fall of Moammar Kadafi.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who hosted the event at the Elysee Palace, praised the progress made by the gathering, which included Germany, Algeria, Russia and China, countries that did not support North Atlantic Treaty Organization airstrikes that proved crucial to the anti-Kadafi insurgency

Russia recognized the legitimacy of the Libyan rebel leadership earlier in the day.

Photos: The Libyan conflict

"We want this to be the beginning of a policy that puts military force at the service of protecting populations who risk being martyred" by their own leaders, Sarkozy said.

France and Britain, along with the United States, were major contributors to the NATO campaign, which was launched under a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians. France was also the first country to recognize the rebel government.

Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron said participants at the conference supported continued NATO airstrikes against pockets of Kadafi supporters "for as long as needed to protect civilians."

The attendees urged the Security Council to quickly free up frozen Libyan assets, estimated at $110 billion, which are essential to restore water, food and medical care and to help Libya build democratic institutions.

Libya's own oil wealth is expected to pay much of the massive reconstruction bill. France said it was authorized to free $2.2 billon in assets; Britain and the U.S. have already unfrozen $1.6 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively.

There was recognition among the conference participants that the "struggle is not over yet," in Cameron's words.

Meanwhile, in a 10-minute statement by telephone carried Thursday by a Syrian television station, Kadafi urged his followers to fight on. "Continue the strong and fierce resistance," he said. "Do not have pity on colonialism and its agents.... Let the bullets speak."

The statement gave no indication of Kadafi's whereabouts.

The rebel leadership extended by a week the Saturday deadline it had set for the surrender of the coastal city of Surt, Kadafi's hometown. Rebel forces are moving into position to attack the city of about 100,000 people, but say they would prefer to negotiate a surrender.

Some speculate that Kadafi is holed up in Surt, which is east of Tripoli, or another loyalist stronghold, Bani Walid, southeast of the capital.

The Paris conference took place on the 42nd anniversary of the 1969 coup that brought Kadafi to power. After rebels captured Kadafi's headquarters last week, the conference was billed as a victory celebration.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the gathering that 860,000 people had left Libya since the fighting began in February. A humanitarian mission will be deployed to Libya soon, he said, and the United Nations is working with rebel authorities to prepare for elections and to ensure that human rights are protected.

Photos: The Libyan conflict

Special correspondent Lauter reported from Paris and Times staff writer McDonnell from Tripoli.

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