EU, NATO allies to release frozen assets to Libyan rebels

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As rebels seize Muammar Gaddafi's compound and the regime enters its final days, the EU and NATO have taken the first steps to assist a transitional government in Libya and release frozen cash.

European Union and NATO officials said yesterday (23 August) that they had begun talks to secure an international agreement to release aid and unfreeze about $100 billion of Gaddafi's assets in overseas banks, even though the dictator was still running free.

"This is not over yet," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said yesterday during a press conference.

After talking with Mahmoud Jibril, chair of the National Transitional Council, Ashton confirmed she had been told that rebels now controlled 80% of Libya.

Libya's transitional administration will need funds to make sure public sector workers like policemen or nurses are paid, stores have sufficient supplies and the economy can be developed again, Ashton continued.

"This is a rich country. The question is how to get the economy moving again quickly," said the EU's foreign policy supremo. But she declined to say whether the EU was pushing for sanctions to be lifted before Gaddafi's regime had been officially toppled.

Last May, the EU added €1.24 billion to the €5.7 billion already budgeted for 2011-2013. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has said it will start lending to North Africa and the Middle East, starting with Egypt. The loans could reach €2.5 billion by 2013.

Democratic buds

Rebels chair Jibril reportedly said that the country's transition "begins immediately," adding that Qatar would host a meeting today to put together $2.4 billion in aid.

"The fall of the capital means the fall of the regime," Jibril told CNN. "I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that, within the next couple of days, many other liberations will happen."

"We will build a new Libya, with all Libyans as brothers for a united, civil and democratic nation," Jibril added.

The rebel government gained further legitimacy as a number of governments and organisations recognised it, including Egypt and the Arab League. Jibril is expected to meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Milan tomorrow (25 August).

However, some are questioning whether Jibril and other rebel leaders can maintain control over their forces, particularly the 40-odd private militia groups, or katiba.

Others are questioning how rebel leaders will deal with Gaddafi's tribe and supporters such as the Warfalla. They were criticised for quickly putting together and releasing a draft interim constitution last week without further consultation. Although some Western officials have pledged to help with constitution writing, it remains unclear how receptive Libya's new leaders will be to outside help.

EU officials say they are also preparing to help organise elections, set up a court system, fund media and interest groups, reform the police and design "sound economic policies for growth, development and jobs".

According to officials, the EU is also ready to open a diplomatic mission in Tripoli as soon as calm is restored.

Ashton said she would go to New York on Friday (26 August) to discuss strategy on Libya with officials from the Arab League, the African Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation under the auspices of the UN.

Positions: 

US President Barack Obama pressed Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi to "explicitly" give up power and warned exuberant rebels that their struggles were "not over yet".

"The Libya that you deserve is within your reach," the president said in a message to Libya's rebels, cautioning that "there will be huge challenges ahead" as they replace Gaddafi's iron-fisted, four-decade rule with a new government.

UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said yesterday that it was "only a matter of time" before Colonel Gaddafi's regime was defeated. 

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