Malta recognised the Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of Libya and Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi called on Muammar Gaddafi “to leave immediately” and stop the bloodshed.

The decision was announced by Dr Gonzi at the end of an emergency Cabinet meeting yesterday that discussed the situation in Libya after rebel forces swept into Tripoli.

Dr Gonzi said the government still recognised the Libyan Ambassador to Malta, Saadun Suayeh as the legitimate representative of the Libyan state unless the transitional council decided otherwise.

On Monday, the embassy said it recognised the TNC as the Libyan government and Dr Suayeh said he would remain in office pending any decision to the contrary by the new Libyan government.

Dr Gonzi said the government was in favour of releasing frozen Libyan assets to the council but any such decision would have to be taken in conjunction with the United Nations and the EU.

Asked whether any top officials of Col Gaddafi’s regime had made contact with the Maltese government over the past few days, Dr Gonzi said there was no contact whatsoever.

He reiterated Malta’s support to the Libyan people and said the country was prepared to offer humanitarian assistance.

Asked about the whereabouts of the Maltese-registered cargo ship Triva I, chartered by the government to evacuate Maltese and foreign nationals from the Libyan capital, Dr Gonzi said it was still in open sea off Tripoli.

The ship was expected to dock in Tripoli on Sunday but it came under heavy fire and sailed out again, aborting the evacuation mission.

The ship can carry about 60 passengers and Dr Gonzi said the government was in talks with the EU on the possibility of chartering a larger vessel.

There are 11 Maltese in Tripoli who wanted to leave after fighting reached the capital on Sunday night when rebels entered the city from the west and the east. Dr Gonzi cut short a holiday to attend the Cabinet meeting but an official statement said he returned to Prague last night. He is expected back on August 31.

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