Foreign and Military Affairs

Chinese diplomat meets Libyan opposition leader

Updated: 2011-06-04 08:17

By Qin Jize (China Daily)

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BEIJING - China on Friday confirmed its contact with Libya's opposition leader, reiterating that the people of Libya should decide their own future.

"Chinese ambassador to Qatar Zhang Zhiliang has recently met with Chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil and the two sides exchanged views on the Libyan situation," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei in a statement posted on its website.

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Hong didn't give details of the talks, but said the Chinese position on the Libya issue is clear, which is to seek a political solution to the crisis and for Libyans to determine their own future.

The meeting, held in Doha, was the first known contact between Chinese diplomats and the Libyan opposition.

Analysts said the announcement shows an adjustment of China's tactics regarding the Libyan issue.

"As the situation develops in Libya, China could not neglect the existence of the opposition. Moreover, seeking to protect its national interests and stay in an advantageous position in post-conflict Libya is another key reason," said Zhang Xiaodong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

He noted that the talks could also be viewed as reflecting China's desire to help solve the crisis in Libya through negotiations rather than military action.

China always avoids taking firm sides in other countries' domestic conflicts and in March it abstained when the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize NATO-led air strikes. But it quickly condemned the subsequent expansion of those strikes and has repeatedly urged a ceasefire and a political solution.

In another development, a UN official said on Friday the bodies of 150 African refugees fleeing turmoil in Libya had been recovered off the Tunisian coast after the vessels carrying them to Italy got into difficulty.

Tunisian authorities rescued 570 people, but many others fell in the water when a stampede to get off the small fishing boats - combined with the effect of rough seas - capsized some of the vessels, a Tunisian official said. In all about 250 people were reported on Thursday as missing from the vessels.

With the UN warning that his government was running out of food, the Libyan capital this week saw the first big protest in months against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's 41-year rule.

Also in Tripoli on Friday, a series of at least 10 NATO strikes hit in and around the city, targeting military barracks close to Gadhafi's sprawling compound. The strikes appeared to be the heaviest in Tripoli since South African President Jacob Zuma visited Gadhafi.

Reuters and AP contributed to this story


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