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China is blocking release of Libya's frozen assets: NTC Head

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - China is obstructing the release of Libya’s frozen assets, the head of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) Mustafa Abdel Jalil said in a news conference Saturday.

“China is obstructing the release of Libya’s frozen assets,” said Abdel Jalil, adding that Libyan rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril had earlier met with a representative of the Chinese government to further understand this “unexpected position.”

It was not immediately clear what the precise complaint to Beijing was. China has not joined Western powers in formally recognizing the NTC as the legitimate authority in Libya, but it has acknowledged its “important role” in the country following the overthrow last week of Muammar Gaddafi.

An NTC spokesman accused China of bargaining hard to protect interests in Libya, developed during Gaddafi’s rule.

Spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah said that while China had agreed with other international powers Thursday to the unfreezing of $15 billion of Libyan assets abroad, it was opposed to handing control of more to the interim ruling council.

“China is objecting to the unfreezing of all of the money but has approved of the $15 billion that is needed immediately,” he said. “I’m sure they are going to use their veto card to make sure that their interests here in Libya are secure.”

Under Gaddafi, Libya had built up an estimated $170 billion of assets abroad, though Western governments, anxious to see how the NTC operates as a government, have also not suggested giving immediate control of all of those investments to the council.

China’s future role in Libya is seen as uncertain given its criticism of the NATO bombing campaign against forces loyal to Gaddafi. However, NTC officials have said that existing contracts, signed with the Gaddafi administration, will be honored.

And Abdel Jalil said that China was still considered a “supporter” of the Libyan revolt since it did not use its veto in the UN Security Council to oppose the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya in March.

“China has been a supporter of the revolution as I have mentioned more than once as it abstained from using its mandate against two UN resolutions supporting Libya,” he said.

Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Alastair Macdonald