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Rebel march on Tripoli buoys France, UK

The general reaction in Europe is guarded optimism as rebels have moved quickly into Tripoli. The UK and France were driving forces behind the NATO intervention in Libya.

By Staff writer / August 22, 2011

Libyans living in France wave flags of the Kingdom of Libya during a protest against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi outside of the Libyan embassy in Paris on Aug. 22.

Benoit Tessie/Reuters

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Paris

While it may be too early for any triumphal "high fives" in Libya, the entrance of rebels in the capital Tripoli brings considerable relief in London and Paris.

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Britain’s David Cameron and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy initiated the drive for NATO intervention in Libya, aimed at protecting civilians from Col. Muammar Qaddafi's forces. Almost right away, France recognized the rebel government, even as Libya appeared to be mired in a civil war.

The sudden news of Mr. Qaddafi’s near-end thus brings vindication for both leaders in a European holiday month that has been rather cheerless. August started shortly after the mass killing rampage of Anders Breivik in Norway, continued with markets falling in the midst of a debt crisis and an unsettling US debate on debt ceilings, then slouched into the mayhem of London riots and further bitter tussles over European unity and what to do about Greek debt. Time magazine's cover offered “The Decline and Fall of Europe.”

“The images of cheering crowds in the center of Tripoli are promises for the future,” opens an editorial today in the French newspaper Le Monde. “It is the victory of an international effort in which France and the United Kingdom have occupied a seat in the first row.”

If Qaddafi leaves, President Sarkozy will have both Libya and an earlier French-led ouster of Laurent Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast to use as examples of a renewed French internationalism in the 2012 national elections next spring.

In Britain, the success of the rebels allowed Mr. Cameron, up to his waist in damage control from the riots and a recent media scandal, a buoyant moment outside 10 Downing Street only weeks after his foreign secretary said the Arab Spring was starting to turn into an Arab winter.

“We have no confirmation of Qaddafi's whereabouts, but at least two of Qaddafi's sons have been detained,” Cameron said. “His regime is falling apart and in full retreat…. Qaddafi must stop fighting, without conditions – and clearly show that he has given up any claim to control Libya.... This has not been our revolution, but we can be proud that we have played our part.”

European markets had been expected to fall again today after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “no” Sunday to issuing eurozone bonds designed to soak up debt. Yet eurozone markets opened on the upside today due to developments in Tripoli. “Let's not be angels here,” says Karim Emile Bitar of the Institute for International Studies in Paris. “It will be NATO countries that will get the lion’s share of post-Qaddafi contracts in Libya. We are already seeing this.”

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