Italy to supply Libyan rebels with arms: spokesman

BENGHAZI, Libya Sat May 7, 2011 2:59pm EDT

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BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Rebels fighting to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Saturday they have reached an agreement with Italy to supply them with weapons, but the former colonial power denied the report.

Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga, spokesman for the rebel Transitional National Council, told a news conference in Benghazi that the weapons would be provided to the insurgents soon.

Asked to confirm reports that Italy had agreed to provide rebels with weapons, Ghoga said: "Yes, the military officers have confirmed that they have an agreement with the Italians.

"They will supply us with weapons. They've already been there (to Rome) twice, and we will receive them very soon," he added.

He declined to specify what kind of weapons would be furnished to the rebels but said they would be the "weapons that are needed for liberation."

In Rome, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said no such deal had been reached. "There has been no agreement to supply them with weapons," the spokesman told Reuters.

He said Rome would only offer the rebels "equipment for self defense" as agreed by the so-called Libyan "contact group" of countries at a meeting in Doha last month.

Italy has thrown its full support behind Libyan rebels, formally recognising the transitional council as the only legitimate representatives of the country, but it is unlikely that it would go further than other countries in the anti-Gaddafi coalition.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had close ties with the Libyan leader before hostilities broke out and already faces internal opposition to Italy's involvement from his main coalition partner, the Northern League.

Rebels have long been demanding they need more heavy weapons to take on the Libyan leader's better-armed and trained forces.

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