New Libyan Leader’s First Stop: Paris

Wednesday, 24 Aug 2011 12:30 PM

By Martin Gould

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As Libyan rebels tighten their grip on the country, their leader Mahmoud Jibril is out of the country to start diplomatic talks.

And his first stop is Paris as President Nicolas Sarkozy has emerged as the fighters’ international hero due to the United States’ back-seat role in aiding the revolution.

Sarkozy and Jibril, the de facto Prime Minister of the National Transitional Council, were expected today to discuss “the situation in Libya and the international community’s actions to support the political transition to a free and democratic Libya,” according to a statement from Sarkozy’s office.

Jibril, who has called on Libyans to unite and build a modern nation rather than settle scores with supporters of dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, left the country just as his Transitional National Council offered a $1.67 million reward for the Gadhafi’s capture. The money will come from local businessmen.

France is a natural first stop for the prospective new leaders of Libya. Sarkozy’s government played the main role in organizing international support for the rebels as they fought their five month campaign to unseat Gadhafi. France was also the first country to recognize the Transitional Council as the legitimate rulers of the north African nation.

Sarkozy, who is facing massive political problems at home is keen to embrace the Libyan rebels’ apparent victory as a rare piece of good news. “The tenacity of the allied forces paid off,” Sarkozy told his Cabinet during a meeting on Wednesday.

France and its European Union partners are currently trying to free billions of dollars of Libyan assets that were frozen while Gadhafi was in power. It wants to help rebuild the country, reform its institutions and pay salaries of government workers.

Western leaders will take up the issue at a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey on Thursday, and it will be a major topic of a meeting of the foreign ministers of the “contact group” of nations that are leading efforts to stabilize Libya in the aftermath of the fighting, which will be hosted by France next week.

Meanwhile the exact whereabouts of Gadhafi are still unclear. He issued a statement on radio on Wednesday saying he had left the 2.3 square mile Bab al-Aziziiya compound in “a tactical move” as it was being constantly attacked by NATO warplanes. Speculation inside the country suggested he was holed up at a farm close to Tripoli.

Gadhafi called on his supporters to keep fighting to cleanse the capital of “rats,” and vowed martyrdom over surrender.

Gun battles were still raging in parts of Tripoli, but the siege of the Rixos hotel where 40 international journalists had been held captive for five days ended. Matthew Chance of CNN, one of those held, said the guards threw down their Kalashnikov rifles.

"They didn't put up any resistance,” said Chance, "Arabic-speaking journalists among us managed to convince them that the world had changed outside, that much of Tripoli was held by the NTC, the rebels."

The journalists left the hotel in vehicles provided by the International Red Cross. "We've been up all night for the past five nights trying to go through every scenario to negotiate our release," Chance said. "We're immensely relieved, all of us.”

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