France's Sarkozy vows to intensify Libya strikes

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 20, 2011 8:55 AM
France's Sarkozy vows to intensify Libya strikes

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised Libyan rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil Wednesday that France would intensify air strikes on Muammar Gaddafi's army, the president's office said in a statement.

It gave no detail on how the strikes would be ramped up.

"We are indeed going to intensify the attacks and respond to this request from the national transition council," the Elysee Palace said in a statement after Sarkozy met Abdel Jalil in Paris, their first face-to-face meeting.

"The President said 'We will help you,'" the Elysee said.

Abdel Jalil said he had invited Sarkozy to visit the eastern rebel-held city of Benghazi to demonstrate France's support for the rebels' efforts to end Muammar Gaddafi's 41-year rule. The Elysee did not say whether Sarkozy had accepted.

"I think that would be extremely important for the moral of the revolution," Abdel Jalil told reporters outside the Elysee.

Sarkozy, who has been at the forefront of the West's military intervention in Libya, was the first foreign leader to formally back the rebel opposition and has stayed in close contact with the group's leaders by telephone in recent weeks.

The rebels have urged the West to ramp up its military campaign to try and break a deadlock in the conflict and halt attacks on the besieged city of Misrata, where hundreds have been killed in recent weeks.

France and Britain said this week they will place military liaison officers with the rebels to advice leaders on strategy.

Abdel Jalil said the rebels pledge to try and build a democracy in Libya so that the head of state would come to power "by the ballot box, not atop a tank."

His meeting with Sarkozy came amid a stalemate in eastern Libya, with the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata stuck under siege by Gaddafi's army.

Nine weeks after the rebellion broke out, NATO air strikes have failed to halt attacks on Misrata and have not gone beyond evening the balance of power between the two sides.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry and Alexandria Sage; Writing by Catherine Bremer)