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Libya Rebels Get Cash Injection From Contact Group

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, center, poses with the other delegates during a group photo following a meeting on how to support rebels fighting the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, at Rome's Foreign Ministry, May 5, 2011

Libyan rebels won a financial lifeline potentially worth billions of dollars from the United States and other allies on Thursday. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, attending a contact group meeting on Libya in Rome, also spoke of the need to increase pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, saying ousting him was the best way to help the population.

The NATO-backed coalition against Moammar Gadhafi said at a contact group meeting on Libya that efforts are under way to unlock billions of dollars in frozen Libyan assets to provide assistance to cash-strapped Libyan rebels.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration is trying to free up some of the more than $31 billion it has frozen in Libyan assets. The administration has already authorized up to $26 million in non-lethal military assistance to the opposition and has pledged $55 million in humanitarian aid.

Italy, which hosted the meeting on Libya, said the special fund would aim to channel cash to the rebel administration in its eastern Libyan stronghold of Benghazi.

Foreign minister Franco Frattini said the humanitarian fund for Libya had already reached $250 million, thanks to the generosity of many countries. The French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the special fund should be operational within weeks. He said Paris is evaluating its possible contribution.

The Contact Group on Libya also agreed to establish an internationally monitored fund that the rebels can access to provide basic services to the Libyan people. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it will be "an international fund in which nations can make their contributions in a transparent way.

Britain has so far provided $21 million but it does not plan to offer direct funding to Libya’s rebels beyond the aid money and non-lethal equipment that it has already pledged.

Thursday’s meeting brought together representatives of 22 nations and five international organizations to discuss ways to support the rebels fighting longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Speaking Thursday morning, following a bilateral meeting with the Italian Foreign Minister, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said ousting the Libyan leader is the best way to protect the population.

"The best way to protect civilians is for Gadhafi to cease his ruthless, brutal attack on civilians from the west to the east, to withdraw from the cities that he is sieging and attacking and to leave power," she said.

Clinton also said it is important to isolate Gadhafi and his regime, by imposing travel bans on top officials, suspending Libyan embassies and sending envoys to work with the opposition’s Transitional National Council.