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World leaders back new Libyan leadership, say NATO operation will continue for now
PARIS (AP) ' The leaders of Britain and France say that dozens of world nations have pledged to support Libya's new leadership, though warn the struggle to stabilize the country is not over.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said NATO will continue operations for as long as needed to protect civilians in Libya, even after the ouster of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at an international conference Thursday that, "We are committed to returning to the Libyans the monies of yesterday for the building of tomorrow."
Both spoke after leaders and envoys from 60 nations and world bodies such as the United Nations and NATO met in Paris for talks with Libya's rebel-led National Transitional Council to map out Libya's future.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
PARIS (AP) ' A global conference on Libya's future will urge the U.N. Security Council to press ahead with a new resolution that would help free up billions in frozen Libyan assets worldwide, a Western diplomat said Thursday.
The diplomat, who requested anonymity to discuss details before publication of the summit's conclusions, said participants would vow to put the United Nations at the center of coordinating future assistance to Libya.
Details were contained in a draft of a planned joint statement from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, the co-hosts of the Paris talks. They were among the Western leaders calling on more countries and international bodies to recognize the National Transitional Council, whose top leaders were attending the talks, as Libya's legitimate government.
The talks focused on ways to keep Libya together and build a new democracy, after months of civil war and decades of dictatorship under Moammar Gadhafi. The meeting also aimed to help free up billions in frozen Libyan assets worldwide to help the newly dominant opposition, and reconcile diplomatic differences over NATO-led airstrikes that helped oust Gadhafi.
Russia, which had criticized the NATO operation, gave a boost to the meeting by recognizing the rebels as Libya's interim leadership hours before the talks started.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 31 heads of state, 11 foreign ministers and the chiefs of the United Nations, NATO and the Arab League are taking part in the conference, along with council leaders Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and Mahmoud Jibril.
Sporadic pockets of continued fighting, strained public services, and water shortages across Libya has added a sense of urgency to the international action, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said.
"Looking beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis, it will be essential to work closely with the Libyan leadership to identify their needs and priorities," Ban said in prepared remarks for the closed-door talks, and provided to The Associated Press by his office. "Once those needs are identified, we will have to act in harmony and in a coordinated manner to ensure effective, collective action."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged that with Gadhafi still at large, there was little mood of celebration at the talks. "We are a long way from triumphant feelings, there is a lot of work still to be done on Libya and North Africa as a whole," he told reporters in Paris.
Hague insisted nations were not embarking on a scramble to seize the spoils of a newly free Libya ' including lucrative oil contracts ' but acknowledged many would hope to capitalize on the opportunities for new trade.
Thursday's talks aren't expected to dramatically change the game in Libya, at least not in the short term. They're largely an opportunity for the Libyans to make their case for rebuilding their nation and for the international community to work out its own differences over what should happen next. Many countries are claiming credit for Gadhafi's ouster ' and jockeying to re-claim Libya's oil.
Whatever happens Thursday, French officials have admitted that Libya's transition may fail. Numerous international conferences were held over the past decade on rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan in which grand promises often failed to deliver much security.
The meeting is the first international gathering for the rebel-backed National Transitional Council now that it has taken Tripoli and controls most of Libya, and a test of its readiness to run a troubled and divided country.
The council is expected to present a detailed list of requests at the conference, which comes 42 years to the day after Gadhafi seized power in a coup. It may seek short-term loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, U.S. officials said. While they do not want international peacekeepers, the rebels may seek a civilian U.N. police presence, they said.
While the United States and many European countries abandoned Gadhafi and recognized the rebels months ago, Russia was among those sharply critical of NATO's military campaign in Libya.
A short statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday said it recognized the National Transitional Council. Pressure will now fall on other countries to follow suit ' especially China and Algeria.
China, a big investor in Libya, agreed at the last minute to send an envoy to the Paris conference, and stressed that the United Nations should take a leading role in Libya's future.
Asked about recognizing the rebels, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said only that China respects the choice of the Libyan people and attaches importance to the "role played by the National Transitional Council in the settlement of the Libyan issue."
Algeria offered safe haven to Gadhafi's wife and three of his children on Monday, drawing ire from the Libyan rebels. Algerian newspaper El Watan reported, citing unidentified officials in President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's office, said Gadhafi himself also sought refuge across the border but the Bouteflika refused to take his phone calls.
One country notably absent from the meeting is South Africa, which has had ties over the years to Gadhafi and has been critical of the way NATO and key Western powers have handled the Libya situation.
In a state visit to Norway on Thursday, South African President Jacob Zuma said the African Union was undermined in talks over Libya, and criticized Western countries' use of military force that helped the rebels.
Instead of aid for Libya, the financial focus at Thursday's conference will be on unfreezing assets linked to Gadhafi in banks worldwide. The money was blocked by a U.N. resolution earlier this year aimed at persuading Gadhafi to stop his violent crackdown on anti-government protests.
French officials say at least $50 billion linked to Gadhafi is believed to be squirreled away across the world. British officials have put the figure as high as $110 billion. France has received authorization to transfer euro1.5 billion, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Thursday.
Clinton hopes to announce in Paris that $1.5 billion in Gadhafi regime assets frozen in the United States have been distributed on behalf of the rebels, U.S. officials said. That money is about half the liquid assets of the more than $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets in the United States. Clinton also held bilateral meetings with Libyan rebel leaders ahead of the broader talks.
Summit hosts French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, two of the most vocal backers of the rebels, are eager for the Libyans themselves to be seen as taking the lead, instead of outside powers. Many are trying to learn lessons from the insurgent violence that wracked Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The transition process "is Libyan-led, this is Libyan-owned, this is not Iraq," British Foreign Minister William Hague said on BBC Radio Thursday.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters in Brussels that the European bloc foresees four areas in which it could help Libya move toward to democracy: immediate humanitarian aid and supplies; security sector reform; economic support ' including the lifting of sanctions; and help in building civil society and democracy.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany would make a "recognizable contribution" to helping Libya once officials there have said what they need.
"Libya won't have the problem that there isn't enough money ' Libya does have financial capacities," she told reporters in Berlin. "But I think a lot will be needed very quickly now in terms of technical help, and then also in terms of building up democratic structures, and Germany is prepared to help here too."
British officials have stressed that Libya's interim government must use Thursday's summit to offer assurances over the timetable toward elections. But Hague indicated there could be flexibility over the National Transitional Council's commitment to hold elections within eight months.
Jim Heintz in Moscow, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Scott McDonald in Beijing, Bjoern H. Amland in Oslo, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Greg Keller and Matthew Lee in Paris contributed to this report.