- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Engineers, doctors, professors and lawyers, some with Western degrees and all claiming support for a democratic Libya, make up the opposition that aims to topple Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

France is the only country to have officially recognized the opposition Interim Transitional National Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. The Obama administration says it is still examining the group’s objectives, motivation and support.

Abdul Hafidh Ghoga, a human rights lawyer and spokesman for the 31-member council, said he is puzzled by the U.S. position.

“We are not trying to fool anybody. We want a multiparty system in Libya that guarantees civil rights and civil liberties. What is it that is required of us to prove this,” Mr. Ghoga said in a phone interview with The Washington Times.

“Any government that comes to Libya will be more respectable than the Gadhafi regime. Give us a chance to prove that we are legitimate. … You can only do that by taking some action to stop the killing and put an end to this regime,” he added in Arabic through an interpreter.

Mohamed Benrasali, a member of the provisional committee in the city of Misurata, described the members of the council as highly educated, moderate and secular.

“We feel that we are close to Europe and close to the U.S. and will be close to a democratic world,” said Mr. Benrasali, an engineer who was educated in Britain.

“We love America to bits,” he added.

White House spokesman Jay Carney last week said the administration has many questions about the provisional government.

“We are still engaged in the process of assessing those groups — the council and other individuals — to find out what their vision is, who they represent, what their ideas are, and where they would take Libya in a post-Gadhafi future,” he told reporters.

Earlier, Mr. Carney dismissed suggestions that the United States arm the rebels.

“I think that it would be premature to send a bunch of weapons to a post office box in eastern Libya,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Mahmood Jibril, an envoy from the rebel council, in Paris on Monday but declined to give details on her talks.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, introduced a Senate resolution this week calling for a no-fly zone over Libya.

Mr. McCain urged President Obama to follow France’s lead and recognize the National Transitional Council.

“Some continue to say that we do not know who the opposition is and thus we cannot assist them. This is ridiculous. They have been organized for weeks. And they are asking - pleading - for international support,” he said.

Poorly armed rebel fighters have borne the brunt of an offensive by Col. Gadhafi’s troops, which have used tanks, artillery and aircraft to hammer the insurgents since the start of their uprising on Feb. 17.

Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, on Wednesday described the regime’s crackdown as a “grotesque brutality” and said the international community cannot watch from the sidelines.

“Time is running out for the Libyan people,” Mr. Kerry said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The international community is split on imposing a no-fly zone over Libya to destroy Col. Gadhafi’s air advantage.

Russia and Germany have expressed reservations. The Arab League, Britain and France are pushing for a no-fly zone, while the Obama administration has questioned whether it would be effective.

The Interim Transitional National Council was set up in the eastern city of Benghazi under the leadership of Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who quit his post as justice minister in the Gadhafi regime after the uprising began.

Members of the council are volunteering their service. Only those who live in the rebel-controlled eastern part of Libya — Benghazi, Derna, Qouba and Batnan — have been publicly identified. The council has not disclosed the names of members in the western part of Libya, which is under Col. Gadhafi’s control.

Misurata was the scene of fierce fighting on Wednesday as pro-Gadhafi forces wielding heavy artillery and riding in tanks tried to seize control of the rebel-held city.

Pro-democracy forces contacted by The Times said they had rebuffed the offensive and described “victory scenes” in the city. They said their side had suffered casualties: Eleven dead, including an elderly woman, and 25 wounded.

Col. Gadhafi’s forces have notched up victories against the rebels in recent days. However, the pro-democracy fighters say only industrial cities such as Ras Lanouf and Brega, which have sparse populations, have fallen.

These oil terminals are a key source of income for the regime.

The rebel forces also rely on income from the oil refinery in the rebel-controlled city of Tobruk and aid from the international community, said an attache to the council in Baida, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing security concerns.

Abdel Rahman Shalgam, Libya’s former ambassador to the United Nations, told a gathering of Libyan-Americans in Washington last week that because Libya had “suffered a lot of dictatorship, our remedy will be democracy.”

A person who is close to the council in Benghazi and spoke on the condition of anonymity citing concern for the safety of his family, described the establishment of the council as the “most democratic exercise we have had [in Libya] in 42 years.”

The council intends to draw up a draft for a future constitution. It is, for now, preoccupied with securing international recognition and support.

“We are not in a very political mode, we are in a rescue mode because people are being bombarded from the air. Our first concern is how to get out of this crisis,” said the official in Benghazi.

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