Gadhafi regime not legitimate, world leaders say
Delegates from more than 30 countries, including Canada, declared Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya no longer legitimate Friday, officially recognizing his main opposition as the country's governing authority.
The decision was made in Istanbul, where representatives of nations and international organizations including NATO held their fourth meeting of the Contact Group on Libya to discuss the ongoing conflict there and the country's future.
The group issued a statement saying it would deal with the Transitional National Council as the legitimate authority in Libya until an interim one is in place and that Gadhafi and certain members of his family in the government "must go."
Canada had already recognized the TNC as the legitimate representative body of the Libyan people, but other allies, including the United States, had not done so before Friday. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird met with the chair of the opposition group and other members of the council when he went to Libya last month and said he was impressed with them and their commitment to rebuilding their country.
"We were very pleased to see the United States and Japan recognize the TNC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people," Baird said in a call from Istanbul after the meeting.
He said the Contact Group had good discussions and its members are united in their purpose.
"We want to pursue any political settlement for Gadhafi to go," said Baird. "That is something that is incredibly important, that he leave government."
The foreign affairs minister said the group is also focused on the continuing NATO mission, humanitarian needs and preparing for "a post-Gadhafi Libya."
In agreeing to recognize the TNC as the legitimate authority, nations are now looking at how to provide financial assistance to it, Baird said.
The U.S., for example, will be able to fund it with some of the more than $30 billion US in Gadhafi-regime assets that are frozen in American banks.
Canada's hands are tied, however, said Baird. According to Canadian law, it can't release the assets it has frozen and transfer the money to the TNC unless the UN Security Council changes its resolution, which has imposed a freeze on all Libyan government assets.
"We believe that the overwhelming amount that has been frozen in Canada is under United Nations Security Council sanctions and so our legal ability with Canadian law is that we can't release to either them or a third party until the Security Council lifts the freeze or makes another decision in that regard," he said.
Baird said the amount frozen by Canada is "substantial" but couldn't provide details.
Baird said he witnessed firsthand during his visit to Benghazi that money is needed to provide goods and services to the Libyan people.
The declaration agreed upon by Contact Group members urged countries that have frozen Libyan assets to open credit lines to allow for funds to flow to the TNC. Baird said he has instructed his officials to consider that option.
Also under consideration is the possibility of Canada setting up a diplomatic presence in Libya to deal with the opposition group, he told reporters, but security is a major concern.
"We want ongoing relations with the NTC, that's incredibly important. But obviously as minister my first responsibility is to the security of our staff on the ground," he said.
Countries step up commitments to Libya
American support for the designation of the TNC as the governing authority was viewed as important, and according to U.S. officials, representatives broke into applause when Clinton made the announcement.
"The United States views the Gadhafi regime as no longer having any legitimate authority in Libya," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. "And so I am announcing today that, until an interim authority is in place, the United States will recognize the TNC as the legitimate governing authority for Libya, and we will deal with it on that basis."
In addition to discussing diplomatic support for the main opposition group, representatives at the meeting also talked about more financial aid and bigger military commitments to the NATO-led mission there.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his country is stepping up its commitment to the NATO mission in Libya. NATO countries have been enforcing a no-fly zone and conducting air strikes on Libya since March under a UN resolution aimed at protecting civilians. The United Kingdom said it is adding four more aircraft to its contribution to the mission.
"This contact group today, what we are seeing is an ever growing number of nations and international organizations joining in this effort and being clear, that Col. Gadhafi must go so that a political settlement can be arrived at in Libya," Hague said.
The Contact Group, made up of 32 countries and several organizations, was discussing the political future of Libya and its move to recognize the Transitional National Council as the legitimate authority adds to the growing sense that it would govern post-Gadhafi.
Senior U.S. officials have said the Obama administration is preparing to strengthen ties with the Transitional National Council once it presents detailed plans for a democratic, transparent and inclusive government.
Concerns have been raised, however, about whether the initial post-Gadhafi regime would represent the full spectrum of Libyan society: all regions, all tribes and all political parties.
'Tangible results': MacKay
Speaking a day before the Turkey meeting, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said from Italy that Canadian troops in Libya are helping mount pressure on Gadhafi.
During a teleconference Thursday from Naples, MacKay praised the Canadian Forces personnel involved in the NATO-led mission, calling them "our greatest citizens and our best ambassadors."
The defence minister met Wednesday with some of the 650 troops stationed at bases in Italy for the operation. Despite the ongoing violence in Libya, MacKay said the Canadian military is helping to achieve "tangible results," including saving lives.
The Canadian commander leading the mission, Lt-Gen. Charles Bouchard, said the operation has been successful in reducing violence against civilians by Gadhafi's troops.
On Thursday, Gadhafi's forces reportedly repelled a co-ordinated attack by NATO forces and rebels against a strategic oil town, Brega, in the east of the country. The report could not be independently verified.
The civil war in Libya appears to have hit a stalemate, despite a protracted NATO bombing campaign against Gadhafi's forces. Rebels control eastern Libya and pockets in the west, while Gadhafi is holding on to Tripoli and large stretches of western Libya.
With files from CBC News and The Associated Press