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Britain sends body armor, police uniforms to Libya

- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2011

LONDON (AP) — Libya's opposition leader said Thursday that rebels need more weapons and funding, as Britain offered new body armor and uniforms for civilian police officers in the country's eastern cities.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the United Kingdom was offering 5,000 sets of body armor, 6,650 uniforms, 5,000 high-visibility vests and communications equipment to help police protect rebel leaders and international officials.

But in talks in Vienna, Austria, Libya's opposition chief insisted that rebels fighting Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces need more and better weapons to win their conflict and spare more bloodshed.

Foreign deliveries of military hardware would give the rebels a chance to "decide this battle quickly (and) to spill as little blood as possible," said Mahmoud Jibril of the Transitional National Council.

Mr. Jibril spoke after meeting Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger and a day after France acknowledged air-dropping weapons to the rebels.

Col. Thierry Burkhard, a French military spokesman, said Wednesday that France had airlifted weapons to Libyan civilians in a mountain region south of Tripoli. The deliveries of guns, rocket-propelled grenades and munitions took place in early June in the western Nafusa Mountains, when Col. Gadhafi's troops had encircled civilians.

The British government said it believed the French decision to supply weapons fell within the terms of the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorizes international action in Libya.

But China questioned whether or not the supplying of weapons contravened the international agreement. Russia, too, previously has complained about the scope of the NATO-led air campaign in Libya.

"China calls on the international community to strictly follow the spirit of the relevant resolution of the U.N. Security Council and avoid taking any action that goes beyond the mandate of the resolution," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. "We always call for a political resolution to the Libyan crisis so as to restore peace and stability as soon as possible."

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Monday in London that nations should seek a political solution to demands for Col. Gadhafi to step down after 42 years in power.

In London, Mr. Hague said the new supplies from Britain would help the opposition protect the growing community of diplomats and aid workers in eastern Libya.

Police will be able to "better protect Transitional National Council representatives and the significant international and NGO communities in Benghazi, Misrata and other areas of Libya" under opposition control, Mr. Hague said.

Mr. Jibril also warned that unless the opposition council receives large amounts of foreign money, schools will not be able to open later this year. The rebels previously warned that hospitals also are running short on cash and supplies.

Earlier this week, the opposition was handed an initial $100 million in donor money to pay for salaries and fuel. The international Contact Group on Libya already has pledged to supply more than $1.3 billion for Libya's opposition.

Austrian officials, who asked for anonymity because their information was sensitive, said the government was ready to unfreeze some of the billions of dollars frozen in Austrian accounts and funnel them to the rebels but only after making sure that such a move did not violate laws prohibiting the rights of the account holders, many of them private citizens.

George Jahn reported from Vienna.

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