The European Union has opened a diplomatic office in the Libyan rebels' eastern stronghold of Benghazi. The event comes amid a stepped-up NATO campaign against Libya's Gadhafi regime.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was surrounded by a flock of rebel officials and reporters as she arrived in Benghazi to inaugurate the new EU office. She accepted a bouquet from a young girl wearing traditional dress and held talks with the head of the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil.
Ashton also made a few brief, public remarks.
"I am here today to explain and to be clear about not only the short-term support from the European Union, but about the breadth and the depth of our support."
Ashton said that support included help with border management and security reform, the economy, health, education and in building civil society.
"It is our intention to support not just now, but long into the future, as long as the people of this country would wish us to be there."
E.U. member France became the first country to internationally recognize the Libyan rebels. Italy, Qatar and Gambia have since followed. Some other nations, including the United States, have opened talks with the rebels, but stopped short of granting them full diplomatic recognition.
Ashton's visit to eastern Libya come as NATO stepped up its campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his supporters. Wire services report NATO warplanes bombed the port of Tripoli and Gadhafi's compound near the capital shortly before her arrival.
Ashton is the most senior foreign official to visit the rebel-held Libyan region. A number of E.U. countries have frozen diplomatic ties with the Gadhafi government, along with Libyan bank accounts and investments overseas.
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