LONDON — Britain has officially recognized Libya's main opposition group as the country's legitimate government, and Wednesday expelled all diplomats from Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain is unfreezing 91 million pounds ($150 million) of Libyan oil assets to help the National Transitional Council, which the U.K. now recognizes as "the sole governmental authority in Libya."
He said the council had been invited to send an ambassador to London, adding that "we will deal with the National Transitional Council on the same basis as other governments around the world."
The Libyan charge d'affaires was summoned Wednesday morning and informed that he must leave the country within three days, the Foreign Office said. A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with official policies, said the seven other remaining diplomats were being given more time in case they wanted to defect.
Britain's diplomatic moves implement a decision made at a July 15 meeting in Istanbul during which the United States, Britain and 30 other nations recognized Libya's main opposition group as the country's legitimate government
A popular uprising seeking to oust Gadhafi broke out in February, but the front lines in the civil war have remained largely stagnant since then. Rebels, backed by NATO air bombings, control much of the country's east and pockets in the west. But Gadhafi controls the rest from his stronghold in Tripoli, the capital.
Britain is one of the leading participants in the NATO-led campaign, but the government has been under pressure over its failure to remove Gadhafi from power.
This week Hague said for the first time that Gadhafi might be able to remain in Libya, as long as he is not in power.
He said that "Gadhafi is going to have to abandon power, all military and civil responsibility," but "what happens to Gadhafi is ultimately a question for the Libyans."
France and the United States have made similar suggestions.
Hague denied there was a stalemate in Libya.
"We will see this through to success, however long it takes," he said. "Time is not on the side of the Gadhafi regime."
A handful of demonstrators gathered outside the embassy in London, with a rebel banner, heckling the diplomats outside and threatening to climb onto the balcony and tear down Gadhafi's green flag. They were shooed away by police, who stood guard outside the four-story stone and brick building across from the city's Hyde Park.
Abdelatif Kleisa, a Libyan emigre now living in Sheffield, was among the demonstrators. He said any defections would be welcome but the defectors themselves wouldn't be treated as heroes.
"It's too late for them to defect," said the 48-year-old businessman, who wore a rebel flag pin over his heart. Asked if any of the diplomats could win a place in the rebel movement, he let out an expletive.
"No way," he said. "They have to get normal jobs like anyone else. We struggled for 42 years. Now it's their turn to struggle."