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Tripoli Questions Russian Claims of Libyan Training for Syrian Opposition

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Libya's Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib, March 8, 2012, at the State Department in Washington
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Libya's Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib, March 8, 2012, at the State Department in Washington

Libya's interim prime minister says he does not believe Russian allegations that the transitional government in Tripoli is helping to train armed opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Libya is asking for U.S. help to apprehend members of the former Gadhafi government.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin on Wednesday accused Libyan leaders of operating a training center for Syrians to attack the government in Damascus.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's Ambassador to the UN, speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the situation in Libya, New York, March 7, 2012
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's Ambassador to the UN, speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the situation in Libya, New York, March 7, 2012

After talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday, Libyan interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib said he does not believe the allegations are true. "As far as training camps, unless this is something that is done without government permission, which I doubt, I am not aware of any,” he said.

Libya's interim leaders were among the first to recognize Syria's year-long uprising against President Assad.

Prime Minister El-Keib said it is a movement worthy of support. "The Syrian cause is a good cause. Its people are raising their voice, asking for freedom,” he said.

Secretary Clinton said the United States is working with the Syrian opposition to help them assemble the kind of unified front that Libyans formed in their uprising, especially the close links between civilian and military elements.

Libya's new leaders are asking the Obama administration for help in dealing with members of the former government in Tripoli. The prime minister says some Gadhafi loyalists are “causing problems” and that the country needs them back to give them “proper justice” and recover funds, he says, they stole.

Secretary Clinton said Libya's transitional leaders have made progress in building an accountable government, promoting a strong private sector and developing a vibrant civil society, while drafting an inclusive election law and forming an electoral commission for constitutional assembly elections in June.

Prime Minister El-Keib said his government is fully committed to ensuring that the vote is free, fair and transparent. "Libya needed a facelift, and the revolution has given it," he said  "We are looking for a new Libya founded on the principles of democratic governance and rule of law, and dedicated to improving the quality of life of the Libyan citizens.”

Secretary Clinton said this vote is a “critical first step that will pave the way for a new constitution grounded in democratic principles.”

"Just think, this time last year, the United States was working to build an international coalition of support for the Libyan people," Clinton said. "And today, we are proud to continue that support as the people of Libya build a new democracy that will bring about peace and prosperity, and protect the rights and dignity of every citizen.”

U.S. and Libyan officials played down concerns about internal divisions, especially a declaration of autonomy by local leaders in Benghazi.  Prime Minister El-Keib said “this is democracy in practice” and that those concerns will be worked out in the new constitution.

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