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EU, NATO leaders meet for crunch talks on Libya

A flurry of diplomatic activity got underway Thursday as NATO and EU leaders scrambled to find an adequate response to the situation in Libya. Plans for a no-fly zone remain controversial as the fighting rages on.

US, EU flags

NATO and EU leaders are holding crucial talks on Libya

A two-day marathon of talks began as NATO defense ministers and EU foreign ministers sat down in Brussels to examine their options, including plans for a no-fly zone. Their meetings were to lay the groundwork for an emergency summit of EU leaders on Friday to discuss further sanctions against the regime.

In a letter addressed to the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, the foreign ministers of Germany and Britain urged the EU to formulate a joint response to the Libyan crisis. The declaration should state that "the EU and its member states will not work or cooperate with Gadhafi and that he has to step aside and allow for a true democratic transformation of the country," Guido Westerwelle and William Hague wrote in their letter.

In response to reports that the Pentagon was preparing a "full range" of military options, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday that any military action was attached to certain conditions being met.

"Any operation we undertake needs to respect three key principles: firstly there has to be a demonstrable need for NATO action, secondly there has to be a clear legal basis, and thirdly there has to be firm regional support."

Meanwhile NATO surveillance aircraft began round-the-clock monitoring missions of Libya's airspace to track the movement of Gadhafi's airforce. However, a NATO official said this was not a precursor to a no-fly zone, instead it would allow NATO and EU leaders a better picture of the situation in their discussions.

As diplomatic efforts gathered pace, France on Thursday became the first western government to officially recognize Libya's opposition National Council, saying it was the only "legitimate representative of the Libyan people." There were also plans to send an ambassador to the rebel-held city of Benghazi. French Foreign Minister Alan Juppé urged other EU states to follow suit and enter into talks with the opposition.

Diplomatic push

Gadhafi

Moammar Gadhafi remains defiant

Meanwhile the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi sent out envoys to Europe, with government official Mohammed Taher Siyala visiting Greece on Thursday, where he met the country's deputy foreign minister. Similar talks were held Wednesday in Malta and Portugal.

In an attempt to further tighten the noose around the regime's neck, the EU signed off on further repressive sanctions, most notably freezing the assets of Libya's sovereign wealth fund which is managed by the Libyan Investment Authority. The LIA has significant shareholdings in overseas companies. Other targets included the central bank.

Germany said Thursday it had frozen accounts belonging to the central bank and the sovereign wealth fund. Over 100 accounts at 14 German banks were targeted, blocking "billions" in funds, according to government sources.

The EU also planned to reallocate an aid package worth 4 billion euros ($5.7 billion) designed to support the growth of democracy and boost business across the region.

On the ground, troops loyal to Gadhafi were said to have launched a major offensive on rebels in the eastern oil town of Ras Lanuf, forcing them to retreat. A hospital source said at least four people had been killed and 35 wounded. Hundreds of rebel fighters were said to be fleeing further eastwards after coming under intense mortar and rocket fire.

Author: Rob Mudge (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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