LONDON — Britain has ordered the Libyan Embassy’s
remaining staff members to leave the country and has recognized the
Libyan rebels’ ruling council as the only official representative of the
North African nation, Foreign Secretary William Hague told a televised
news conference Wednesday.
The eight staff members will follow Libyan Ambassador
Omar Jelban, who was expelled in May. Five other embassy personnel,
including the military attache, were ordered out in March.
Hague stressed the British government’s support for
the rebel Transitional National Council’s struggle to oust Libyan leader
Moammar Gadhafi, declaring: “The Libyan people can be assured that we
will remain on their side for as long as it takes.”
“The prime minister and I have decided that the
United Kingdom recognizes and will deal with the … council as the sole
governmental authority in Libya,” he said in reference to Prime
Minister David Cameron.
Although Britain had previously made clear its
support of the rebel council and has been participating in NATO
airstrikes against Libyan forces, official recognition was not in place
until Wednesday. Hague said the government had decided to take the
additional step following a recent conference on Libya held in Istanbul,
Hague also announced that frozen Libyan assets,
including about $127 million belonging the national oil company, would
be released to pay for fuel needed in rebel-held territory and to aid
Libyan students in Britain who have been left high and dry by the
conflict in their homeland.
There was widespread speculation Wednesday that the
British decisions were at least in part a reaction to the appearance of
Abdel Baset al-Megrahi at a pro-Gadhafi rally in Tripoli televised
Tuesday night. Al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 for his role in the 1988
bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270
people. He was released by Britain in 2009 after doctors said he was in
the final stages of cancer and had only months to live, and he returned
to Libya to a highly publicized homecoming.
Hague did not confirm that Tuesday’s appearance was
behind the expulsion of diplomats but had fierce criticism of the
previous British government’s decision to release al-Megrahi.
“I think the appearance of Mr. Al-Megrahi on our
television screens is a further reminder that a great mistake was made
when he was released. … This was absolutely the wrong thing to do; it
shows the medical advice it was based on was pretty much worthless. I
think many people, particularly the families of those killed at
Lockerbie, I think their anger and outrage at this release will be
further intensified by what we have seen.”
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