Libya rebels get $15 billion boost

World leaders meeting in Paris unlocked $15 billion in funds on Thursday to help Libya's victorious rebels rebuild the war-torn country as fugitive strongman Muammar Qaddafi issued a new barrage of threats.

Forty-two years to the day since Qaddafi stormed to power in a coup, senior envoys from over 60 countries met the leaders of the revolution that overthrew him to endorse the fledgling regime and offer practical support.  

But they also put the leaders of the National Transitional Council on notice to pursue a path of reconciliation, despite Qaddafi’s latest message of defiance from his desert hiding place.  

The Elysee Palace guest list was a victory in itself for the NTC, as once sceptical Russia and China and Libya’s reluctant neighbour Algeria agreed to extend their backing to the new government.  

It was French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the rebels’ most prominent backer from the outset, who made the announcement that $15 billion of Libyan overseas assets which had been frozen would now be unblocked.  

“Around $15 billion have been immediately unfrozen,” he said.  

But, speaking alongside the rebels’ leader, he also urged the NTC to begin a “process of reconciliation and forgiveness.”  

NTC president Mustafa Abdel Jalil said the Libyan people had “proved their courage and their determination” to the international community in their fight to topple Qaddafi but he also pleaded for stability.  

“Now everything is in your hands,” he said in a message to the Libyan people. “It’s up to you to accomplish what we promised: stability, peace and reconciliation.”  

The rebels have issued an ultimatum for Kadhafi and his followers to surrender, amassing troops around his hometown of Sirte for a final battle.  

At the Paris conference, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance would continue its six-month operation in Libya for as long as the civilian population was in danger.  

Qaddafi, who might once have marked the coup anniversary with a triumphant speech, was reduced to releasing his latest bluster on tape, vowing: “We will not surrender. We are not women and we are going to keep on fighting.”  

While the mood in Paris was upbeat, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sounded a note of caution, urging the rebels to beware extremism in their own ranks and prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands.  

“The international community, led by the UN, needs to help the Libyan people and its leaders pave a path to a sustainable, inclusive democracy that banishes violence as a political tool and promotes tolerance,” she said.  

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he would work with the Security Council to agree terms for an immediate United Nations mission to deal with a possible humanitarian crisis and help rebuild the state.  

“Our most immediate challenge is humanitarian,” he said.  

“Roughly 860,000 people have left the country since February, including skilled guest workers. Public services are under severe strain, including hospitals and clinics …There is a major water shortage.”  

Russia — which opposed NATO’s military support for the rebels’ battle to overthrow him — said it recognised the NTC as Libya’s “ruling authority”.  

China, which also had reservations about the air campaign, did not go so far, but said it “respects the choice made by the Libyan people and attaches importance to the significant position and role played by the NTC.  

However continental heavyweight South Africa was among those continued to snub the NTC. President Jacob Zuma boycotted the talks and said he was “not happy” with NATO’s campaign. 

The African Union has not yet recognised the NTC and the head of the bloc’s executive branch said he wanted guarantees black African migrants in Libya would not face reprisals.  

“The NTC has given us assurances about the African workers in Libya. We’re waiting to see,” AU commission president Jean Ping said.  

The Algerian turnabout may prove of more immediate practical help in cutting off a potential Qaddafi escape route.  

Libya’s larger neighbour has been accused of supplying Qaddafi with arms and, after members of the fallen leader’s family fled there, it was seen as a likely escape route for the strongman and his loyal sons.  

But Algeria’s Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci welcomed the NTC promise to set up a “government representative of all regions” and added: “When it has done so, we’ll recognise it.”  

The talks began against the backdrop of a new Qaddafi rant in which he urged his supporters to keep up their resistance to the rebellion.  

“Even if you cannot hear my voice, continue the resistance,” he said, in a message from a secret location. Qaddafi and his son Seif al-Islam have gone underground since rebels stormed into Tripoli on August 20.  

“If they want a long battle, let it be long. If Libya burns, who will be able to govern it? Let it burn,” declared Qaddafi.  

Rebel officials say Kadhafi may be in the town of Bani Walid, south of the capital and still held by loyalist troops, but other reports suggest he could be in his hometown Sirte or Ghadames, near the Algerian border.

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‘I’ll smash my accusers’: Sarkozy comes out fighting over corruption charges

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to clear his name on Thursday after being charged for financing his 2007 election campaign with money from late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, but admitted he was "finished" in politics.

'I'll smash my accusers': Sarkozy comes out fighting over corruption charges
French former president Nicolas Sarkozy speaking during an interview with TF1 on March 22nd. Photo: AFP PHOTO / TF1
“It might take me one, two, 10 years but I'll smash this group (of accusers) and will restore my honour,” he said during an emotion-charged prime-time television interview on Friday evening. “I don't plan to give an inch!”
Having already stepped back from a front-line public role in 2016 after he failed with a bid to run again for president, Sarkozy told his interviewer on the TF1 channel that for himself “politics is finished”.
In an defiant half-hour performance that saw him shake with indignation at times, Sarkozy frequently referred to his accusers from Kadhafi's regime as “sinister”, “liars” and a “group of killers”.
“If you had told me that I would have problems because of Kadhafi, I would have said: 'What are you smoking?'” Sarkozy said at one point, claiming that investigators had not found a single piece of evidence against him.
The 63-year-old, who served as French leader from 2007 to 2012, was charged with corruption, illegal campaign financing and concealment of Libyan public money on Thursday evening after two days of questioning in police custody.
Sarkozy charged with corruption over alleged Gaddafi financing
Under the French system, charging a suspect means that investigators believe they have strong and corroborated evidence against them, but the defendant can appeal and the case can still be dropped before a trial.
The allegations that Sarkozy took money from Kadhafi — whom he welcomed to Paris in 2007 but then helped to topple in 2011 — are the most serious out of several investigations that have dogged him since he left office.
“I am hurt deeply as a person, not for me, for my country,” Sarkozy said in his concluding remarks on the TF1 channel. “You can't drag people into the mud because some killers wanted to do it. I can't let them get away with it.”
Earlier in a statement released to Le Figaro newspaper, Sarkozy said he had been “living the hell of this slander since March 11, 2011,” when the first allegations against him emerged via Kadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam.
He went as far as to blame “the controversy launched by Kadhafi and his henchmen” for his failure to win re-election in 2012, when Francois Hollande, a Socialist, took the presidency.
Suitcases of cash?
Since 2013, investigators have been looking into claims by several figures in Kadhafi's ousted regime that Sarkozy's campaign received cash from the dictator.
In 2011, as NATO-backed forces were preparing to drive Kadhafi out of power, Seif al-Islam told the Euronews network that Sarkozy must “give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign”.
Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the rantings of vindictive Kadhafi loyalists who were furious over the French-led military intervention that helped end Kadhafi's 41-year rule and ultimately led to his death.
He has also unsuccessfully sued the investigative website Mediapart for publishing a document allegedly signed by Libya's intelligence chief showing that Kadhafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to 50 million euros ($62 million). The courts have ruled it can be used as evidence.
Ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy hauled in by police for grilling... once again
Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine also claims to have delivered three suitcases stuffed with a total of five million euros ($6.15 million) to Sarkozy and his chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.
Sarkozy lashed out at the arms broker in his television interview and in his statement, arguing his account contained inconsistencies and accusing him of having “highly suspect characteristics and a questionable past”.
The legal investigation is also looking into a 500,000-euro foreign cash transfer to Sarkozy's former chief of staff Claude Gueant and the 2009 sale of a luxury villa to a Libyan investment fund.
Le Monde newspaper further reported that other former regime officials have stepped forward alleging illicit financing.
First ex-president in custody
In 2014, Sarkozy became the first former French president to be taken into police custody, over a separate inquiry into claims he tried to interfere in another legal investigation against him.
But he is not the first ex-president to be charged with corruption — his predecessor Jacques Chirac was given a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for embezzlement and misuse of public funds during his time as mayor of Paris.
Sarkozy is already charged in two separate cases, one relating to fake invoices devised to mask overspending on his failed 2012 campaign and another for alleged influence peddling.