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Erdogan to visit Libya as Sirte battle rages

Sep 15, 2011, 10:07 p.m.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, National Transitional Council (NTC) head Mustafa Abdul Jalil (C) and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron join hands in Benghazi, September 15, 2011. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

In Benghazi, seat of the uprising which early intervention by French and British jets helped to save from Gaddafi's army in March, Sarkozy and Cameron were treated to a rowdy welcome on Thursday, shouting over a cheering crowd.

"It's great to be here in free Benghazi and in free Libya," said Cameron as he strained to be heard above the chants in scenes from the former rebel stronghold televised live across the globe.

The French president, struggling for re-election next year, beamed at grateful chants of "One, two, three; Merci Sarkozy!" while the two leaders, flanking NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, held his arms aloft like a victorious boxer.

"France, Great Britain, Europe, will always stand by the side of the Libyan people," said Sarkozy, whom many Libyans credit with making a decisive gamble, pulling in a hesitant United States and securing U.N. backing for NATO air strikes to halt Gaddafi's tanks as they closed in to crush Benghazi.

Although Sarkozy denied talk among Arabs of "under the table deals for Libya's riches," Jalil said key allies could expect preferential treatment in return for their help in ending Gaddafi's rule.

"As a faithful Muslim people," he told reporters in Tripoli, "we will appreciate these efforts and they will have priority within a framework of transparency."

Erdogan, who has visited Egypt and Tunisia this week, has been holding up Turkey's blend of Islam and democracy as a model for the movements that have toppled longtime Arab rulers in Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli.

He has already won plaudits from Libya's new rulers.

"We expect the world community to follow the wonderful support of Turkey, its leading role and effort. Turkey has done an amazing job," Aref al-Nayed, Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, told a recent Libya Contact Group meeting in Istanbul.

Other states which did business with Gaddafi, notably China and Russia, have been concerned that their lukewarm attitude to the NTC may cost them economically. While Jalil stressed a desire to allocate contracts on the best terms for Libya, and to honor existing contracts, he said some could be reviewed.

(Reporting by Maria Golovnina near Bani Walid, Libya, William MacLean, Alexander Dziadosz, Joseph Logan and Emmanual Jarry in Tripoli, Sherine El Madany in Ras Lanuf, Emma Farge in Benghazi, Mark John and Bate Felix in Niamey, Barry Malone and Sylvia Westall in Tunis, Keith Weir and Alastair Macdonald in London, Catherine Bremer and John Irish in Paris; writing by Philippa Fletcher; editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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