World

Libyan diplomats ordered out of Britain

Britain is expelling all Libyan diplomats and unfreezing assets to help fund the National Transitional Council, the group the British government has now officially recognized as the legitimate governing authority in Libya.
Media gather outside the Libyan embassy in London Wednesday after the British government announces all staff have been ordered out of the country. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

Britain is expelling all Libyan diplomats and unfreezing assets to help fund the National Transitional Council, the group now officially recognized by Britain as the legitimate governing authority in Libya.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague held a news conference Wednesday in London where he called the NTC "the sole governmental authority in Libya" and said it would be invited to appoint a diplomatic envoy to replace expelled embassy officials.

He said the NTC has steadily increased its legitimacy and has been successful in reaching out to Libyans. It stands in "dark contrast" to ruler Moammar Gadhafi's brutal and illegitimate regime, he added.

"Through its actions, the National Transitional Council has shown its commitment to a more open and democratic Libya, something that it is working to achieve through an inclusive political process," said Hague.

"The NTC is a focal point for all people throughout Libya who want a better future for their country. Our decision also reflects the responsibility that the NTC has taken on in areas under its control," he said.

He also said that the British government is exploring measures to unfreeze millions of dollars in assets to help fund the National Transitional Council.

Invited to send ambassador to London

Earlier Wednesday, the Libyan chargé d'affaires in London was informed that all eight remaining embassy staff and their dependants must leave the country within three days. The ambassador had already been asked to leave.

Hague said the National Transitional Council had been invited to send an ambassador to London, adding that "we will deal with the National Transitional Council on the same basis as other governments around the world."

The international military campaign in Libya aimed at putting an end to Gadhafi's violent actions against his own people began in March. Hague denied there was a stalemate in Libya. "We will see this through to success, however long it takes," he said. "Time is not on the side of the Gadhafi regime."

Earlier in the week Hague said for the first time that Gadhafi might be able to remain in Libya, as long as he is not in power. He said that "Gadhafi is going to have to abandon power, all military and civil responsibility," but that "what happens to Gadhafi is ultimately a question for the Libyans." France and the United States have made similar suggestions.

The official recognition of the National Transitional Council and the other diplomatic moves announced Wednesday implement a decision made at a July 15 meeting in Istanbul during which the United States, Britain and 30 other nations recognized Libya's main opposition group as the country's legitimate government.

Canada is part of the Contact Group on Libya and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird attended its fourth meeting in Turkey. The Canadian government had earlier indicated its support for the National Transitional Council to act as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Canada also ordered Libyan diplomats out of the country in May. Five officials were declared persona non grata by the Department of Foreign Affairs because their activities in Canada were considered "inappropriate and inconsistent with normal diplomatic functions," the department said.

A government source confirmed to CBC News that there were fears embassy officials were trying to intimidate those opposed to Gadhafi.

The NATO-led mission in Libya is enforcing a UN resolution, and Baird said after the meeting in Turkey that for now, Canada's hands are tied when it comes to unfreezing assets.

According to Canadian law, the government can't release the Libyan assets it has frozen and transfer the money to the NTC unless the UN Security Council changes its resolution, which has imposed a freeze on all Libyan government assets.