UK invites Libyan rebels to open London office

Libyan rebels` leader said Moammer Gaddafi was a legitimate NATO target.

London: Premier David Cameron Thursday invited Libya`s rebels to open an office in London, their first in a foreign country, as the opposition leader said Moamer Gaddafi was a legitimate NATO target.

After holding talks with Cameron, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chief of the rebel National Transitional Council, urged allies to send the rebels more weapons so they could drive the Libyan leader from power.

NATO airstrikes on Gaddafi’s compound on Thursday killed three people, hours after Libyan state television showed the first footage of Gaddafi since another attack on April 30 that the regime said had targeted him.

"The government is today inviting the council to establish a formal office here in London," Cameron said after the talks in Downing Street, his first face-to-face discussions with Jalil.

Britain will also boost its diplomatic team in the rebel bastion of Benghazi and supply several million pounds worth of equipment to police in opposition-held areas, including bulletproof vests, Cameron said.

It will also help the rebels set up an independent radio station.

Cameron told Jalil that Britain regarded the NTC as "the legitimate political interlocutor" in Libya, where the revolt against Gaddafi’s rule has raged for nearly three months.

"These steps signal our very clear intent to work with you and your colleagues to ensure that Libya has a safe and stable future, free from the tyranny of the Gaddafi regime," Cameron said.

Jalil, who last month held talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said he had come to London to thank Britain for its "discipline and moral stand".

But he urged the international community to give the rebels more help.

"We still need some lethal weapons," he told a news conference.

"We need light weapons, which is not the equivalent of Gaddafi’s heavy weapons but perhaps with courage, which Libyans have, there may be some kind of balance."

Following the latest strikes on Gaddafi’s bunker in Tripoli, he said that NATO forces who have been carrying out airstrikes since March 19 were within their rights to target the Libyan leader.

"Gaddafi is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he is the one who is encouraging everybody to fight. So we think there is justification for him to be a legitimate target," Jalil told a news conference.

Libya has said the April 30 attack on Gaddafi’s compound, which killed the strongman`s son Seif al-Arab and three of his grandchildren, was "a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country".

The issue is more relevant than ever since US forces killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan last week, which US Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday was "not an assassination."

Jalil also met Foreign Secretary William Hague and finance minister George Osborne to study measures agreed at a meeting in Rome last week of key nations involved in efforts to support the rebels.

Britain`s move stops short of full diplomatic recognition for the NTC. France, Italy, Qatar and Gambia have already recognised the rebel council as the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

The Foreign Office said that the rebel office in London would "not be a diplomatic mission and therefore they will not have diplomatic immunity or privileges."

"The UK recognises states not governments," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

A British government source said staff at the rebel office would receive certain "administrative concessions" on minor issues -- for example access to parking spaces.

Around 200 supporters of the Libyan rebels held a small demonstration opposite Downing Street, waving opposition green, black and red flags and chanting "freedom, freedom" and "Gaddafi stop the massacre."

Another leading rebel figure, Mahmud Jibril, will visit the White House Friday for talks with US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.

Bureau Report