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Pentagon chief arrives in Tripoli

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has arrived in Tripoli, making history as the first Pentagon chief to ever set foot on Libyan soil.

Mr Panetta has indicated that Washington will give more time to the Libyans to gain control of the militias that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi before determining how to help the fledgling government.

"The last thing you want to do is to try to impose something on a country that has just gone through what the Libyans have gone through," he said just prior to his arrival.

"They've earned the right to try to determine their future. They've earned the right to try to work their way through the issues that they're going to have to confront," he said.

Mr Panetta's route into the city took him past carcasses of bombed buildings and the charred and graffiti-covered compound once occupied by Gaddafi. Flying from rooftops were the green, black and red flags, adorned with a star and a crescent, belonging to the new government.

Amid the Arabic graffiti splashed across the walls of the compound was a short comment in English: "Thanx US/UK."

Mr Panetta will meet with members of the transitional government in Tripoli, and make an emotional visit to what historians believe is the gravesite of 13 U.S. sailors killed in 1804. Those deaths were caused by the explosion of the U.S. ship Intrepid, which was slipping into Tripoli harbour to destroy pirate ships that had captured an American frigate.

While eager to encourage a new democracy that emerged from Libya's Arab Spring revolution, the US is wary of appearing as trying to exert too much influence after an eight-month civil war. At the same time, however, leaders in Washington and elsewhere worry about how well the newly formed National Transitional Council can resolve clashes between militia groups in the North African nation.

Ahead of Mr Panetta's visit, the Obama administration announced it had lifted sanctions the US imposed on Libya in February to choke off the Gaddafi regime's funds while it was violently suppressing peaceful protests.

Recovery of the assets "will allow the Libyan government to access most of its worldwide holdings and will help the new government oversee the country's transition and reconstruction in a responsible manner", the White House said.

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