EU's Ashton arrives in east Libya, offers rebels support

In Benghazi, European foreign policy chief explains "the breadth of [EU] support" for rebels seeking to dislodge Muammar Gaddafi.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Danilo Krstanovic)
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Danilo Krstanovic)
BENGHAZI, Libya - European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton pledged support for rebels in east Libya on Sunday, making the most senior visit to the area by a foreign official since a revolt against Muammar Gaddafi began.
"I saw the posters on the way from the airport to here saying 'We have a dream' and I'm here today to explain not only about our short-term support but also the breadth of our support," Ashton told a news conference in Benghazi.
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France, Britain and other European states have been at the forefront of a efforts supporting Libya's rebels. French planes were the first to bomb Gaddafi's forces in March after the United Nations opened the way for military intervention.
The air strikes, now led by NATO, were launched as Gaddafi's troops advanced on Benghazi after the Libyan leader vowed "no mercy, no pity." US planes and missiles were also involved.
Fighting between inexperienced rebels and the Libyan leaders better equipped forces has continued but the east-west frontline is now quieter although there are still sporadic clashes.
"The Libyan people appreciate this visit and appreciate the European Union for supporting the revolution since its beginning," the head of the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said.
He said Ashton's visit to open an EU office in Benghazi "shows the increased support of the European Union in supporting us to have a democratic and free state."