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France asks UN to unblock funds for Libya, hosts Paris meeting on post-Gadhafi future
PARIS (AP) ' France has asked the U.N. Security Council's sanctions committee to unblock about one-fifth of the euro7.6 billion ($10.9 billion) in Libyan assets frozen in French banks.
Western powers like France, Britain and the United States are leading the push to release tens of billions of dollars worth of assets worldwide frozen under a Security Council resolution against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
With Gadhafi's 42-year rule crumbling, those powers want such funds freed up for use by the interim National Transitional Council ' a rebel group that toppled his forces with support from a NATO-led air campaign.
France wants the U.N. to let about euro1.5 billion ($2.2 billion) worth of Libyan funds in French banks to be unfrozen, a top official in President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said Wednesday, giving the first estimate of how much money linked to Gadhafi's regime was in France.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
That estimate ' part of at least $50 billion that the Libyan leader's regime and its allies had squirreled away in foreign banks ' came a day before a major international meeting on Libya in Paris.
Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain ' two of the most vocal and strong-armed backers of the Libyan rebels ' will host about 60 heads of state, prime ministers and top diplomats at the French presidential palace to help Libya's transition to democracy.
In the spring, as Libya's rebellion gathered steam, the Security Council passed two resolutions that froze billions of dollars in assets held abroad by Gadhafi's regime and allowed the NATO-led air campaign to protect Libyan civilians from Gadhafi's bloody crackdown on dissent.
But some world powers, including China and Russia, were hesitant about the NATO campaign ' with some accusing the alliance of overstepping its mandate with thousands of airstrikes on Gadhafi forces and military installations.
Now, Paris wants to "turn the page" on the international divisions over the NATO campaign and help the rebels build a new Libya, the French official said.
Leaders of the council, including Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and Mahmoud Jibril, are expected to join 13 heads of state, 19 prime ministers, and top diplomats including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Russia and China were sending high-level diplomats in charge of African affairs: Chinese Vice Foreign Minister for Foreign Affairs Jhai Jun and Russian special envoy for Africa Mikhail Margelov.
Margelov, quoted Wednesday by Russian news agency Interfax, said Russia would "influence" the process of creating a new Libyan government and "defend Russia's economic and other interests in Libya."
French officials said about 20 countries sending envoys hadn't yet formally recognized the rebels as Libya's government.
With Gadhafi loyalists still fighting, and his exact whereabouts still unknown, diplomats said they would try to ease the transition process and help prevent lingering violence in Libya.
The Libyan council faces major challenges in its bid to become the new government in war-battered Libya: restoring electricity, paying salaries, battling food and water shortages, and reopening schools. Freeing up frozen funds abroad and receiving foreign expertise and assistance would help that process.
Eds: Jim Heintz contributed from Moscow.