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Paris Conference Contemplates Libya's Future

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, third from right, addresses members of the Libya Contact Group during a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Sept 1, 2011.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, third from right, addresses members of the Libya Contact Group during a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Sept 1, 2011.

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Leaders of Libya's uprising were in Paris Thursday with delegates from 60 countries and world bodies to discuss a roadmap for Libya's humanitarian, political and economic future, even as ex-leader Moammar Gadhafi, in hiding, vowed to fight on.

Thursday marked 42 years since Moammar Gadhafi took power in Libya. But with the longtime ruler now on the run - in an audio message aired Thursday he promised no surrender - world backers of the uprising against him met to plan rebuilding the country along new lines.

The meeting on Libya is hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. They were joined by dignitaries from around the world, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Speaking in Paris before the conference, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said it shows that the world is coming together to support Libya's future.

"The other thing of course that it provides today - that the conference provides - is an opportunity for the National Transitional Council to set out their plans for the stabilization of Libya and then what they do politically to create a democratic and inclusive Libya," noted Hague.

The "Friends of Libya" conference gives the National Transitional Council (NTC) an international platform.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters that it is important to have confidence in the NTC leadership.

Juppe said that the international community didn't intervene in Libya for it to fall into another regime that wouldn't respect the fundamental rights of the Libyan people.

The NTC is set to push for access to billions of dollars in foreign-held Libyan assets, which were frozen while Gadhafi held power.  The United States, Britain, and France have already been granted permission by the U.N. sanctions committee to unfreeze billions of dollars.

The NTC was also set to lay out plans for a new constitution and elections.

Nicola Pratt, an expert on the international politics of the Middle East at Warwick University in Britain, says the platform that Thursday's conference provides for the NTC is important.

"The council needs financial support desperately in order to start providing basic services, to pay civil servants, to start generally rebuilding the economy," noted Pratt.  "So this is a crucial period. If the NTC doesn't manage to do these things quickly then it definitely will suffer from a lack of legitimacy."

But she says the importance of the conference is largely symbolic.  

She says much of the wrangling will take place in the corridors as countries jostle for post-war contracts over infrastructure, utilities, and oil.

"There is going to be some competition between those countries that have played a role in helping to get rid of Gadhafi feeling some sort of entitlement now that Gadhafi is gone and this reconstruction process is going to begin," added Pratt.

On Thursday, just ahead of the conference, Russia recognized the National Transitional Council as Libya's acting leadership. But a number of countries around the world, including some in the African Union, have not recognized the NTC as Libya's legitimate government.

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