Libya: UK, France leaders to hold talks with NTC
Tripoli - British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Tripoli on Thursday on the first visit by foreign leaders to the new Libya.
The two men, whose forces spearheaded the Nato air war that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi, are immensely popular among ordinary Libyans for their role in ending the fugitive strongman's 42 years of iron-fisted rule.
They were to hold talks with the head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who earlier gave assurances that Tripoli had been sufficiently secured since its capture from Gaddafi forces last month for the visit to go ahead.
"We say to the leaders coming tomorrow [Thursday] that they will be safe," he told the BBC the night before.
AFP correspondents in the capital reported a massive security operation on Thursday with roadblocks along the road in from Metiga airport on the eastern outskirts and a luxury hotel in the city centre cordoned off by security forces backed up by French officers.
Sarkozy was accompanied by Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on what Finance Minister Francois Baroin described as an "historic" visit, an AFP correspondent travelling with them said.
A statement from Cameron's office said that he was accompanied by Foreign Secretary William Hague.
"He is expected to announce a further package of UK assistance to support the Libyan-led process of transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya," Downing Street said.
The British and French leaders were expected to spend no more than a few hours in Tripoli before heading on to Libya's second largest city Benghazi, which served as the rebels' base during their seven-month uprising against Gaddafi.
As well as meeting NTC officials, they were expected to visit a hospital and hold a news conference.
In Benghazi, Sarkozy aides said he would address the crowd in Tahrir Square, the emblematic focal point of the uprising.
The visit by the two European leaders came as NTC forces are still battling Gaddafi loyalists in a swathe of territory from his hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast through a string of Saharan oases towards the southern border.
A huge convoy of pickups mounted with heavy weapons massed on the coast west of Sirte early on Wednesday in readiness for what commanders said would be a pincer movement against the city, an AFP correspondent reported.
Half of the column massed at Tawurgha, south of Libya's third-largest city Misrata, would advance straight along the coast road, commanders said.
The other half would strike south into the desert towards the town of Waddan in the Al-Jufra oasis in a bid to cut Sirte off from Gaddafi’s other principal bastion, the south's largest city Sabha, they added.
Abdel Jalil appealed in the BBC interview for new weapons deliveries to help capture Gaddafi’s last remaining bastions and complete his country's liberation.
He said that many of Gaddafi’sd remaining forces had now massed in the far south and that the NTC needed more arms to defeat them.
"They have cut off electricity and water as well as supply routes and are preventing food and medicines from coming in, thereby violating all international norms."
Ibrahim, who did not say where he was, said Gaddafi was in "perfect health" and that his morale was up but did not indicate the fugitive strongman's whereabouts.
Gaddafi had earlier appealed from his hideout for the international community to help his hometown of Sirte.
"It is the duty of the world not to leave [Sirte] alone, and everyone must assume their international duty and immediately come to stop this crime," Gaddafi said in a message broadcast on Arrai.
Ibrahim said the battle for Sirte was "near", and added: "We are ready for war, even if it lasts for years."