Delegates on Libya Meet in Istanbul as Rebels Advance Beyond Front Lines

Posted July 15th, 2011 at 4:30 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Turkey for international talks on Libya expected to deepen Washington's ties with opposition forces fighting to overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Delegates of the Contact Group on Libya will lay out plans Friday to increase support to the North African country's rebel Transitional National Council.

Senior U.S. officials traveling with Clinton said Washington would strengthen its relations with the council once it presents detailed plans for a democratic, transparent and inclusive government at Friday's meeting.

The talks come as rebels are advancing closer to Mr. Gadhafi's stronghold, the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

On Thursday, rebel forces attacked the government-held coastal town of Brega, a strategic oil hub in the east of the country.

Medical sources in nearby Ajdabiya said one rebel was killed and at least five wounded in the clashes as opposition fighters reported the first advances beyond the front line in weeks.

A Libyan government spokesman said government troops had defeated what he called a coordinated attack by NATO forces and rebels. Moussa Ibrahim told journalists that opposition fighters backed by NATO air and sea forces had attacked Brega. He said the assault violated the alliance's U.N. mandate to protect civilians.

Ibrahim's assessment could not be immediately verified, although Al-Arabiya television also reported that rebels helped by NATO warplanes had attacked Brega from land and sea.

Friday's meeting in Istanbul is the fourth international gathering on Libya since March, when the uprising began.

The United States and a growing number of countries consider the council the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people but have yet to offer full diplomatic recognition. That step could eventually unlock Libyan assets frozen in the U.S. for the cash-strapped government-in-waiting in Benghazi.

Washington and its NATO allies want Mr. Gadhafi to step down immediately to allow Libya to begin a democratic transition. They say their four-month-long campaign of airstrikes on pro-Gadhafi forces will continue as long as government troops keep attacking Libyan civilians.