French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron were given a rapturous greeting by a Libyans in Benghazi as they took something of victory lap in the seat of the uprising that ouster the country's strongman ruler, Muammar Qaddafi.
A crowd of several hundred people crowded into the city's Freedom Square to cheer the European leaders, who led Western military support against Qaddafi loyalists during the spring and summer struggle to overthrow the dictator.
The city was the scene of early intervention by French and British jets as Qaddafi's tanks closed in to crush the civilian population. Many Libyans credit Sarkozy with making a decisive gamble on their behalf when he won UN support for NATO air strikes in March.
The crowd chanted "One, two, three; Merci Sarkozy!" as the two leaders flanked National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil and held his arms aloft in victory.
Cameron told the crowd, "It's great to be here in free Benghazi and in free Libya," and Sarkozy vowed that, "France, Great Britain, Europe, will always stand by the side of the Libyan people,"
Sarkozy and Cameron are the first Western leaders to visit Libya since Qaddafi’s ouster from power and they used the visit to pledge support for the country's new interim rulers and to call for Qaddafi to be brought to justice.
At a joint press conference earlier with the leaders of the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Tripoli, Cameron sent a strong message to Qaddafi and his followers to "give up" the fight, warning that NATO's mission will continue "as long as it is necessary" to protect Libyans.
"This is not done. This is not over. There are still parts of Libya that are under Qaddafi's control. Qaddafi is still at large and we must make sure this work in completed," Cameron said.
Cameron said Britain would help hunt down Qaddafi, whose whereabouts are still unknown more than three weeks after the long-time ruler's opponents seized control of the capital.
Speaking alongside Cameron and Sarkozy, NTC chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil thanked the two leaders for taking "brave positions" during the Libyan uprising.
Abdul Jalil said the NTC’s foreign allies during the war would have priority for future deals with the country, and warned that some existing contracts would be subject to review for corruption.
In London, Cameron's spokesman said Britain would release $950 million worth of frozen Libyan assets to help the new Libyan leadership.
'No Revenge, No Retaliation'
Sarkozy meanwhile urged Libyans to preserve unity and seek reconciliation:
"France is very much attached to Libya's unity, to reconciliation of the Libyans, and France is telling its Libyan friends: 'Look together at the future, no revenge, no retaliation,'" Sarkozy said.
Reports say the two are also due to tour Benghazi, where Libya's interim administration is still based more than three weeks after Qaddafi opponents seized the capital.
Western countries and neighbors are eager to welcome Libya into the diplomatic fold. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is expected in Libya on September 16. Egypt's foreign minister, Mohammed Kamel Amr, is also due to visit.
And U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltrman visited Tripoli on September 14 where he pledged Washington's support for Libya’s interim leaders.
The same day, the NTC's leader appealed for weapons to help the interim rulers take areas still loyal to Qaddafi. Jalil told the BBC that the ousted leader had possession of "all the gold" and would be planning attacks on cities, oil fields, and power plants.
Abdul Jalil, who has already moved to Tripoli from Benghazi, confirmed that the NTC would not move the whole of its administration to the capital until the last pockets of pro-Qaddafi resistance had been captured.
Meanwhile, a written message attributed to Qaddafi and read out by a presenter on a Syrian TV channel appealed to the United Nations to stop "atrocities" against his birthplace on the Mediterranean coast, Sirte, still held by forces loyal to him.
Qaddafi loyalists also control parts of Bani Walid, southeast of the capital, and the oasis of Jufra. Abdul Jalil said many pro-Gaddafi forces had fled to Sabha in the southern desert.
Dozens of members of Qaddafi’s inner circle have reportedly fled to neighboring Algeria and Niger since Tripoli fell to NTC forces.
Meanwhile, Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry statement as saying the Iranian ambassador to Tripoli had returned to the war-torn country.
And the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow was in favor of lifting the NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Libya in a new resolution on the conflict being drafted by Britain, “considering the changed situation in Libya.”
Both Tehran and Moscow have criticized the Qaddafi regime for its violent assaults on the rebels while at the same time condemning NATO's military intervention.