Tripoli slammed Britain’s “irresponsible and illegal” decision to recognize rebels as Libya’s legitimate ruler and expel diplomats loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi from the London embassy.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Wednesday he had invited the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) to take over the mission and appoint an official envoy in a major boost for the movement fighting Qaddafi’s regime.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim said the decision was “irresponsible, illegal and in violation of British and international laws.”
He said the Qaddafi regime “will take necessary actions,” and would argue against London’s decision before tribunals in Britain and other international courts.
Rebel supporters unfurled the red, black and green flag of the Libyan opposition outside the embassy after Hague’s announcement, although the Qaddafi regime’s green flag still flew from the building itself on Wednesday afternoon.
Outside the embassy in the plush Knightsbridge district, about 20 demonstrators chanted: “We want to say thank you UK.”
Demonstrator Muftah Abdelsamad, 57, who has lived in Britain since 1976, said: “I was so happy I cried. We have been wanting this for six months now.”
“They deserve this decision. Get out! We call them Qaddafi’s rats because they support the killer, the murderer, they deserve to be kicked out,” demonstrator Hamad Khatab said.
“The prime minister and I have decided that the United Kingdom recognizes and will deal with the National Transitional Council as the sole governmental authority in Libya,” Hague told a news conference in London. “We are inviting the National Transitional Council to appoint a new Libyan diplomatic envoy to take over the Libyan embassy in London.”
“We summoned the Libyan charge d’affaires to the Foreign Office today and informed him that he and the other regime diplomats from the Qaddafi regime must leave the UK. We no longer recognize them as the representatives of the Libyan government,” Hague said.
Britain would also unlock US$149 million of Libyan oil assets frozen under a UN Security Council resolution so that the rebels could benefit from them, Hague said.
“This will help to ensure that the crucial provision of fuel is maintained. We will work hard with our international partners in the coming weeks to unfreeze further Libyan assets,” Hague said.
However, a source close to the NTC told yesterday’s Guardian newspaper that the funds might be used to buy weapons.
“We are militarily engaged in removing Qaddafi,” the source said. “Therefore it would be a bit strange to say that we are happy for you to have the no-fly zone, but rather that you didn’t buy arms.”
Britain is one of the leading nations in a NATO-led alliance that has conducted an aerial campaign against Qaddafi’s regime since March, when the UN approved action to protect civilians.
London’s move comes nearly two weeks after the Libya contact group, a body of major Western and regional powers, recognized the the NTC as Libya’s legitimate government.
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