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EU's Ashton: Libya should enshrine women's rights

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sat, 12 Nov 2011 19:52 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Sebastian Moffett

TRIPOLI, Nov 12 (Reuters) - The EU&${esc.hash}39;s foreign affairs chief called on Saturday for Libya to ensure gender equality is protected in law and deed as the country moves towards democracy, and said the European Union would continue to support that goal.

"Discrimination should have no place in a new country," Catherine Ashton told an audience of mainly women in the Libyan capital.

Ashton was speaking during a whirlwind visit to Tripoli, where she inaugurated the EU&${esc.hash}39;s mission, which is intended to help coordinate aid efforts for Libya.

The EU struggled during the early days of the Libyan revolution to find a common policy. France, Britain and then NATO carried out a military operation to protect civilians under a UN mandate -- an operation thought to be crucial to the success of the campaign by Libyan rebels.

But the EU has since been active in working for the reconstruction of the country. It has been the biggest contributor of humanitarian assistance there, donating 155 million euros (${esc.dollar}213 mln) so far, according to EU diplomats.

Ashton toured the capital&${esc.hash}39;s Martyrs&${esc.hash}39; Square, where she picked up a bracelet, T-shirt and pendant commemorating the liberation of Libya from deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi.

She later met Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the ruling National Transitional Council, and the country&${esc.hash}39;s incoming prime minister, Abdurrahim El-Keib, becoming the first Western leader to meet Keib since he was designated premier two weeks ago.

"This is your country," she told diplomats and Libyan representatives at the EU&${esc.hash}39;s new mission. "We are here to help and support."

She told an audience of women to "make sure that your new constitution enshrines women&${esc.hash}39;s rights."

"You need to find ways to turn laws into practical reality," she added.

She later told a news conference alongside Abdel Jalil that equality for women was "not just ... the right thing to do" but was also a "sensible economic proposition".

Asked whether she was concerned about the rise of Islamist groups in Libya, she said: "We support all groups who believe in the values that we hold dear, of democracy, human rights, the rule of law."

Abdel Jalil, who last month announced that Islamic law would apply in a new constitution to be drafted next year, played down any suggestion of a radical Islamist rule in Libya: "Islam is the religion which encourages respect for human life ... We will not be an extreme Islamist country."

There are concerns about the stability of a country awash with weapons in the hands of hundreds of disparate armed groups, but Abdel Jalil said the incoming government would be addressing the need to control arms and form a national army.

He said he expected Keib to announce his government within a week.

(${esc.dollar}1 = 0.728 Euros) (Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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