Cameron invites Libya rebels to open office in UK

Image caption,
Rebels have been fighting Col Gaddafi's forces since February

Libyan rebel leaders have been invited by Prime Minister David Cameron to set up a formal office in London.

Mr Cameron met Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the Interim National Transitional Council, in Downing St as fighting continued in Libya.

He also announced that "several million pounds" worth of equipment was being sent to police in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Rebels have been fighting Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi since February.

Other support includes sending a special representative to the council, and helping to improve the council's broadcasting capacity and boosting the UK presence in Benghazi with "specialists who will form the core of an international stabilisation response team".

People's 'sacrifice'

Mr Cameron said: "I've been struck again today by the resolve and bravery of Abdul Jalil and those he represents in standing up to a tyrant who is still today killing innocent people in Libya.

"The world stands in awe at the sacrifice people have been prepared to make in Benghazi, in Misrata and in the western mountains and elsewhere to seek the freedoms that we all take for granted."

He described the National Transitional Council as "Britain's primary partner" in Libya, as "Gaddafi can have no part in the political transition that lies ahead."

The UK has already supplied 1,000 sets of body armour, satellite telephones and humanitarian aid, including the funding the evacuation of 4,000 people from Misrata and providing 30 metric tonnes of medical and emergency food supplies to the town, Mr Cameron said.

Libya's third-largest city, Misrata, is the only significant western rebel holdout and is strategically important because of its deep-sea port, which has become a lifeline for supplying civilians and for evacuating wounded people fleeing the fighting.

Mr Jalil said he wanted to thank the British people and government for "for their discipline and moral stand".

"This stand was not based on any benefit that the British government may derive from this support. It is a humanitarian position. I assure you that you will never regret taking this stand."

He added that he had invited Mr Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague to visit the rebels in Libya.

Air attacks

On Wednesday night, British warship HMS Liverpool was involved in action to stop Col Gaddafi's forces from mining Misrata's harbour.

Image caption,
HMS Liverpool shadowing a vessel off the Libyan coast

The chief of defence staff's strategic communication officer, Maj Gen John Lorimer, said: "The destroyer, while engaged on surveillance operations off the coast, was tasked with other Nato warships to intercept small, high-speed inflatable craft spotted approaching the port of Misrata - similar boats have previously been used by the regime to attempt to mine the harbour.

"The regime artillery on the coast fired an inaccurate salvo of rockets at Liverpool, whereupon she immediately returned fire, which silenced the shore battery."

Col Gaddafi's boats abandoned their operation, he added.

Air attacks against regime targets continue across Libya, under the command of Nato.

RAF Tornado and Typhoon aircraft patrolled over Misrata on Monday, damaging or destroying two mobile radar systems, two multiple rocket launchers and a main battle tank.

On Tuesday, British aircraft attacked a surface-to-air missile system and anti-aircraft artillery near Bani Walid, in the Misrata district, before causing severe damage to a large military vehicle depot near the Libyan capital Tripoli.

On Wednesday, RAF aircraft successfully attacked five mobile radar systems and one surface- to-air missile launcher in two separate strikes near Tripoli and Sirte.

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