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Sarkozy, Cameron hailed in Libya, offer help

Sep 15, 2011, 10:17 a.m.

In a sign of progress for the NTC, a spokesman said its forces reached the western edge of Sirte, Gaddafi's sprawling home town between Tripoli and Benghazi. "It has been a major advance today," he said. "They are on the outskirts."

Inland, at Bani Walid, residents were still trying to leave the besieged loyalist stronghold, and reported that others were trapped by gunmen. Deep in the desert, the southern city of Sabha is also still controlled by forces loyal to Gaddafi.

Cameron said a Franco-British move at the United Nations on Friday could mean London alone unfreezing $19 billon of assets, while help with healthcare and disarmament was also ready.

With an eye on public opinion at home, he drew attention to the case of a boy wounded by a grenade at his school who would be treated by British specialists, while Sarkozy rebuffed suggestions of self-interest in the war, declaring: "We did what we did because we thought it was just."

REMEMBERING "FRIENDS"

Although Sarkozy hotly denied talk among Arabs of "under the table deals for Libya's riches," interim Libyan leader Abdel Jalil said key allies could expect preferential treatment in return for their help in ending 42 years of 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."

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 Abdel Jalil stressed a desire to allocate contracts on the best terms for Libya, and to honor existing contracts, he said some could be reviewed.

Those deals signed by Gaddafi which were skewed by personal corruption could be canceled, he said, noting that he had served as a minister under the old regime and knew its secrets.

Cameron appeared keen to avoid public triumphalism. "I'm proud of our role," he said. "But this was your revolution, not our revolution."

With an eye on events in Syria and elsewhere, he said Libyans could inspire others: "This does go beyond Libya," he said. "This is a moment when the Arab Spring could become a summer and we see democracy advance in other countries too."

Gaddafi has not been seen in public since June. In a letter read out on Syrian-based Arrai TV he called on the U.N. Security Council to protect Sirte from what he called NATO atrocities.

The need for Sarkozy and Cameron to visit Benghazi as well as Tripoli is a sign of the obstacles Libya still faces in transforming itself into a peaceful, unified democracy. The NTC has not yet been able to establish a government safely in a capital still bristling with militiamen from disparate groups.

Cameron offered Jibril and Abdel Jalil a personal vote of confidence, saying they had "continually proved the sceptics wrong," and urging them to continue a generous policy of trying to include different groups in government and avoiding reprisals against those who took Gaddafi's side.

But the country is deeply divided. Many of its new rulers hail from Benghazi in the east, while the fighters who won the battle for Tripoli mostly come the west.

Sarkozy got a big cheer in Benghazi when he called for a "united Libya" and "a new courage, that of forgiveness."

(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 Alastair Macdonald; Editing by David Stamp)

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